Ryan Kartje (LA Times) — A magical March run as USC’s top tournament scorer led 6-10 forward Isaiah Mobley to test the NBA draft waters, but with just a short time left before the deadline Wednesday he announced he’ll withdraw from the draft pool to return for his junior season at USC.
“Ain’t this what you been waiting for,” Mobley wrote in a post on social media, only four hours before the deadline to withdraw. It would have been difficult to imagine a successful encore performance this season from the Trojans without Isaiah Mobley. With Wednesday’s news, USC’s outlook for 2021-22 became a little clearer.
The former MacDonald’s All-American’s decision marks an instantaneous major offseason victory for USC, which already was tasked with replacing projected top-three pick Evan Mobley, his younger brother, as well as top guard Tahj Eaddy. After a stellar end to last season in which he came alive during the NCAA tournament, the elder Mobley will be expected to take over as the Trojans’ top offensive threat.
Mobley stepped into that role seamlessly last March, outshining his NBA-bound brother to average 16 points and 6.5 rebounds during the Trojans’ run to the Elite Eight. He also found his stroke from three-point range, hitting 10 of 15 from deep through six postseason games.
Still, it was unlikely Mobley would hear his name called until late in the draft’s second round, if at all. That uncertainty, coupled with the opportunity available at USC, was enough to lead Mobley back to Los Angeles.
Next season, he’ll have to carry the load for a team that lost its two top scorers. Until last March, it was a role Mobley hadn’t been asked to fill at USC. As a freshman, he was slow to find his stride while playing next to future top-10 pick Onyeka Okongwu. In his second season, he largely found himself playing second fiddle to his brother in the Trojans’ frontcourt. He scored in double figures in just eight of the Trojans’ first 26 games, before scoring 11 or more in five of their final six during the postseason.
A prolonged return to that NCAA tournament form could vault Mobley into first-round consideration a year from now. He’ll have every chance to step into that spotlight as USC tries to build off his improvement.
The upcoming season could hinge on how well he adjusts to that role. USC returns two other starters in Drew Peterson and Isaiah White, and added a transfer point guard in Memphis’ Boogie Ellis.
None is likely capable of cushioning the blow of losing Evan Mobley, who last year became the first in Pac-12 history to win the conference’s player of the year, defensive player of the year and freshman of the year awards. But the return of the now-proven Isaiah Mobley should help keep USC near the top of the conference once again.