While being forced to sit out of the Capital City Classic in Salem, Oregon during his senior year at Rancho Christian, Evan Mobley never allowed his absence from the court to act as truancy from responsibility.
He was nursing an ankle injury that was suffered before the team made their way to the Pacific Northwest, but instead of allowing the treatment for his ankle injury to act as a waiver from requirements, Mobley was there for his guys. He was there during each film study, practice, walk-through, and meeting as his team pummeled each of their matchups en route to the ‘CCC Finale.
Mobley made his tournament debut in the championship game and left the Beaver State as a champion all while leaving a lasting impression on RC Head Coach Ray Barefield.
“A lot of times players will say... hey I need to staff off of this (ankle), I’ll just stay in my room. But he would always attend, always make sure he watches film, always wants to make sure he knew the game plan regardless of if he was playing that night. He’s just a student of the game.” - Barefield
This was just one example of many that stood out to his former coach who describes Mobley as a player that’s made up of professionalism, selflessness, and humility.
The civility of Mobley was not only exerted in Barefield’s locker room but in the halls of Evan’s alma mater as well. At Rancho Christian, students of all ages are allowed as long as they fall between the K-12 range and are accepted in. There’s been plenty of D-1 level athletes that have donned the blue and gold garb, but none of them were quite like Evan Mobley, and of course, you wouldn’t guess it by his attitude.
When the nimble seven-foot giant would stroll throughout the school, eyes would always follow and the younger pupils that were fans of his would instead have their eyes light up. As the kids idolized him, Mobley never ostracized them. The young students that knew that he would one day be just under a month away from becoming a top-three NBA draft pick were in the presence of a person that never made them feel less than him regardless of the stature that sat on the shoulders of his name. An act of humility that really was never was an act.
“He knew they looked up to him. He actually made time for them because he knew they looked up to him. His humility stood out to me, you’d never hear him say that he was the number one player in the country, even though he had that billing for the last couple of years. You’d never hear him talk about rankings, or I’m this or I’m that.” - Barefield
While on the hardwood, Mobley’s humility transitions into selflessness and even when demanding the ball, he’d make sure to be courteous. He isn’t the type to yell that he’s the best player in the country so give him the damn ball — instead, he asks for trust. He’d tell his running mates that he needs their faith and with that, he’ll get the job done. Or he’d tell his teammates that he needs them to be more aggressive against the opposing teams that’d throw triple teams in hopes to slow him down, and if they were going to force the ball to him, he has to only be seeing double-teams or single coverage for the offense to click.
Barefield described Mobley’s impact by saying:
“It’s easy to spot a guy who’s leading with a winning mentality, like a team first, win first mentality. It was just so much easier to have your leader be about winning. He was about the defensive coverages, the blocking shots, the work you do before you touch it (the ball). Whenever there were moments of frustration or challenges where people were being selfish, it was like, ‘hey, take a look over here. It’s the first half and Evan’s only got X amount of attempts’ so that kind of put things in place and guys started realizing to go through Evan first and to go inside out to open up things for him and for our team.”
But can a guy that’s win first, team first lack passion for the game? It’s been a mildly discussed topic if you were to venture deeply enough into the catacombs of Twitter. The oftentimes laid back expression that Mobley trots with has fueled a question that’s better suited for relationship counselors, and it asks “does laid back mean he doesn’t care? Does nonchalance equate to I couldn’t care less?” Or have we all simply just forgotten that for years, players were almost forced into carrying themselves with class, but for some reason when we see it today, we try to hard to diagnose it as a lack of passion?
The former coach of the player in question believes that Mobley’s professionalism is a double-edged sword. Mobley and his family operate with a certain professional etiquette which was seen in the classrooms of Rancho where he received a 4.0 and impressed faculty, in the hallways where he made time for his young fans, and on the court where he displayed selflessness — and none of that means that he doesn’t care about the sport. There were many instances in practices where the coaching staff would see Evan’s competitive nature, as he was always on opposite teams of his older brother Isaiah.
Following a loss, Evan would often huddle the team up and challenge them to show more on the defensive side of the ball by making proper rotations along with getting back in transition and also point out that he can’t be the only guy out there doing certain things. If they wanted to win the day, they’d need to step up. It’s easy to see a guy go at his teammates and call him a bad leader, but that fact that Mobley doesn’t may have resulted in the notion that he lacks passion.
Perhaps his reservedness was just preparing him for the spotlight he’d eventually receive once he got on the car and hopped on I-5 to officially enroll at the University of Southern California. Upon entry, he joined his brother as a teammate who was entering his sophomore year and his father who’s a member of the coaching staff.
Suddenly it had become essential for Mobley’s image that his demeanor shined with positivity despite any frustrations that he may have had to avoid people believing that USC was playing what Barefield described as, “daddy ball.”
“If he’s going off and acting a certain way on the court, people could look at that and say that’s daddy ball. ‘He’s over here complaining, he’s this or he’s that.’ I know the family, they are very professional, the dad played, the mom is a teacher — they know what they’re doing and they know what image they want to put out, professionally speaking. That same poise and temperament are exactly what has you (Evan) not making bad decisions off the court. I think they handled (being at USC) with great class and professionalism. You rarely saw the dad demanding that Evan or Isaiah touched the ball first and was about the team first. Evan and Isaiah are the same way, I think it was all just always about winning.” - Barefield
It would certainly seem as if the situation was all about winning. Not only did the Trojans post a 25-8 record on the year, but they also advanced to the Elite Eight, but were downed by the at-the-time undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs. Throughout his lone season in Los Angeles, Evan Mobley averaged 16.4 points an outing to go along with 8.7 rebounds, 2.9 blocks, and 2.4 assists. He also shot 57% from the field, 30% from beyond the arc, and 69% from the free-throw line.
If you were to ask Barefield to sell you on the idea of picking the USC stand-out first, he’d tell you:
“I think it would be very, very, tough to try and build a championship team and not respect what Evan Mobley brings to the table.”
He’d then describe how these playoffs have seen guys go down with an injury and the next man up has abundantly played the best ball of their career. As an example, he’d explain how Cameron Payne can fill a void thanks to the vast amount of talent that resides in the league. Barefield would then detail that Mobley not only can score, but is a big that can connect the dots, which is missing from many big men and why they end up being exposed in the post-season. It’s tough to expose a guy who can operate as a floor general while handling the ball or can showcase his shooting ability or fluidity when he’s being used as a scorer, especially when that same player can block shots with his left or right hand, can hit jumpers, and maneuvers like a guard.
It’s why he believes that Mobley has the highest ceiling in the draft despite not being nearly as good as he has the potential to be.
“It’s not the Evan that’s 19 or 20, the scary one is the one that’s gonna be 24 or 25 when he adds 20 pounds of weight and gets complete confidence and understands the game even more than he does now.” - Barefield.
Whether Evan Mobley will end up in Houston and blossom into the best player in his draft class is yet to be determined, but what’s become known is that his approach to the game shouldn’t lead to you asking questions about his passion, instead you should leave compliments about his character.