Last Saturday, USC sent out a press release announcing the hiring of Eric Mobley as an assistant coach for the men’s basketball team.
It read like most press releases, with a plain quote from head coach Andy Enfield followed by a list of Mobley’s basketball experience. But at the very end, it stated: “[Mobley] and Nicol are the parents of sons Isaiah and Evan.” There is no mention of the fact that Mobley’s sons play basketball.
Talk about burying the lead.
Let’s connect the dots: Isaiah and Evan Mobley are two of the most highly touted basketball prospects in the country. 247Sports ranks Isaiah as the 31st-best prospect in the class of 2019, and Evan as the 12th-best in the class of 2020. Enfield’s contract runs through 2023, and he needs some recruiting wins after the damage that the ongoing FBI investigation has done to the program, with potentially more to come.
(Insert thinking face emoji).
To be clear, this hire is not against NCAA rules. Head coaches are free to hire assistants who have relationships with high-profile recruits, as fishy as that might sound. Enfield probably has the inside track in signing both Mobley boys, which would guarantee a top recruit in each of the next two years.
The only downside, basketball-wise, would be Mobley’s experience — or lack thereof — at the NCAA level. Mobley’s highest level of coaching has been with the AAU (a league where LaVar Ball, a well-respected basketball intellectual, serves as the head coach of the Big Ballers) for the past 11 years, most recently with the Compton Magic 16-and-under team.
Going from a 16-and-under team to a Division I college basketball program is a big jump. That’s not to say that Mobley won’t turn out to be a stellar hire. He could use his AAU connections to recruit players. And plenty of coaches have succeeded right away in the upper echelons of basketball.
But this isn’t NBA Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sliding from the broadcast booth to coach a Warriors team loaded with future Hall of Famers. Coaching at the college level matters so much more than it does in the pros because of how raw many of the players are. Coaches play a large role in the habits they develop, the changes they make to their game, whether they improve enough to play at the next level, and more.
Plus, the optics here are not great. Mobley replaces Tony Bland, the former assistant coach who was fired last season after the FBI arrested him for his alleged involvement in an elaborate scheme to funnel money to recruits. De’Anthony Melton, one of the recruits, was held out of action this past season and left school early to declare for the NBA Draft. Taeshon Cherry, who is alleged to be the other recruit, switched his commitment from USC to Arizona State a few months ago, robbing USC of its most talented incoming freshman in a decade.
In essence, USC is replacing Bland, a star recruiter who allegedly used illegal means to do his job, with Mobley, who offers a direct — albeit what some might call ethically questionable — line to two prized recruits.
It is very possible that Enfield is hiring Mobley because he thinks Mobley is going to be a great basketball mind, and the fact that Mobley has two sons with promising futures in basketball is a total coincidence. That was the assumption when he called Mobley an outstanding coach and a terrific person with a wealth of playing and coaching experience at a variety of levels in the press release.
But it’s more probable that Enfield is doing what Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin did before last season, hiring Michael Porter Sr., the father of highly touted prospect Michael Porter Jr., as an assistant. To no one’s surprise, Porter Jr. signed a letter of intent with Missouri shortly thereafter.
Enfield has also used out-of-the-box recruiting tactics before. When Marvin Bagley, the No. 1 recruit in the country in 2018, visited USC last summer, Enfield not only offered Bagley a scholarship, but also extended offers to each of Bagley’s two brothers: Marcus, a high school sophomore at the time, and 7-year-old Martay. There’s even video of Enfield showing Martay the on-campus cupcake ATM and the kid buying three cupcakes.
But that wasn’t enough for the Bagley family, apparently. Marvin committed to Duke, because of course he did. The Oregonian recently reported that the Bagley family may have received direct benefits from a Nike sponsorship with an AAU team that Bagley’s father coached. Duke is also sponsored by Nike, because of course it is.
Shady recruiting tactics are pervasive in college athletics. When your job depends on winning, and that depends on bringing in top recruits, you just have to play the under-the-table game. I’m looking forward to watching Isaiah and Evan Mobley tear it up at the Galen Center in a few years.
Eric He is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. His column, “Grinding Gears,” runs Thursdays.