By Jack Margaros
For the first time in his high school career, Evan Mobley is without his brother.
In last year’s Spalding Hoophall Classic, Evan and Isaiah formed the best brother duo in the country, leading a nationally ranked Rancho Christian team.
Despite a loss to McEachern in Blake Arena, Isaiah (ESPN’s No. 15 recruit in the class of 2019) dropped seven dimes and reeled in 13 rebounds, while Evan (ESPN’s No. 1 recruit in the class of 2020) finished with 16 points, 13 rebounds and three assists.
Their chemistry was evident.
“They pose a double threat for high-lows and extended high-lows and they can both shoot it and pass and dribble,” Rancho head coach Ray Barefield said on Saturday after the team’s game at the 2020 Spalding Hoophall Classic.
But Isaiah graduated and now plays at the University of Southern California. This year, Evan and Rancho Christian had to adjust their playing style to make up for what was lost between the Mobley brothers’ connection.
Playing with the same identity for several years, the change of pace is “welcomed a bit right now,” according to Barefield. The reliance on Isaiah is not there anymore, which has allowed other players to grow and develop.
“It’s a little different (not playing with Isaiah) because we had a two-big dynamic. We had a lot of chemistry. This year we are playing a little faster with the guards and we’re doing pretty good so far,” Evan said after the team’s 61-59 loss to Camden on Saturday.
Indeed, Rancho is still a very talented team, currently 17-4 and ranked No. 18 in ESPN’s High School Top 25.
They’ve been tested with the likes of No. 14 Sierra Canyon, twice. Evan finished with a double-double (16 points, 11 rebounds) in an 85-81 overtime win in his first meeting with the Trailblazers. Sierra Canyon avenged its first loss of the season with a 78-62 victory less than two weeks later.
Opposing teams recognize Evan’s impact, and without Isaiah, game plans are made specifically to contain him.
“There’s times where it’s a challenge also because facing so many double teams and the entire game plan is around stopping him,” Barefield said. “Sometimes our team functions very well and stays aggressive. You almost have to play and make sure that the players on their own are respected and they can actually help him.”
The extra attention was overwhelming at times against Camden, as Rancho struggled to get Evan the ball in the paint. Although, he was still able to put up 14 points and six rebounds en route to earning Player of the Game honors.
“Evan’s obviously one of the top players, if not the top player in the U.S. and watching him obviously be in a position where he has to lead has been great,” Barefield said.
Evan and Isaiah still talk to each other almost every day, giving each other advice and support. It helps having a sibling who can understand what Evan is experiencing.
Someone to talk to. Someone to level with who can truly empathize with you.
Evan is set to reunite with his brother and father, Eric, at USC in the fall (Eric is an assistant coach at USC). Family aside, Evan fell in love with Andy Enfield’s coaching style.
“It should be an easier transition (from high school to college),” Mobley said. “I already have a basis there. My dad’s there, my brother’s there and I’ve already been up there a lot to hang out.”
Barefield noted how the Mobley brothers’ chemistry will positively affect USC.
“I think it’s some concepts that they naturally do together. They got that innate feel from playing with each other so many times,” he said. “They have some real good opportunities to be versatile in their lineup.”
Now that the commitment is official, Evan can enjoy Hoophall without any distractions. He’s always enjoyed the energy of the event and getting the opportunity to play against the country’s top-rated teams.
“It’s a little cold out here compared to Cali but it’s fun,” he said as snow pounded Alden Street outside of the arena.
He and Rancho have one more challenge before they depart from Springfield — a meeting with No. 5 DeMatha on Martin Luther King Day.
Photos Courtesy of Gabby Guerard