By Rich Ruben
Associate Head Coach Tony Bland’s arrest in September of 2017 as part of the FBI basketball scandal set off a chain of events which led the Trojans to add Eric Mobley to the coaching staff and brought the Trojans’ staff new creditably with the Compton Magic talent pool. The Magic are a national basketball power on the AAU circuit, drawing top players from all over Southern California and playing a national summer schedule. Before joining the USC staff, Mobley coached the Magic’s 16 and under team for three years and had previously coached other AAU teams for eight years. Until recently, most top Magic players were going to other Pac-12 schools or to out of state powers.
The Amateur Athletic Union, or AAU, held its first national championship in 1887, 50 years before the first NCAA tournament. Although the AAU has teams in many sports, over half of the individual 1.1 million members play basketball. The NCAA changed its basketball recruiting calendar in the late 1980’s in recognition of the importance of AAU summer tournaments in the evaluation and recruiting of high school players. High level AAU teams have more Division 1 level players than almost any high school team, and the best AAU teams play each other and provide a better picture of how a player compares with other elite players. College coaching staffs attend the major AAU games and though they can’t directly communicate with players, they make sure they are seen by the players and the families who they are recruiting or scouting. Coaches wear Carolina blue or Tennessee orange or USC cardinal and gold shirts and position themselves to be seen. Scores of college coaches attend the major AAU tournaments.
Like college basketball, the good AAU teams are sponsored by shoe companies. These sponsorships are one of reasons college basketball recruiting has come under scrutiny. A Nike sponsored team wears only Nike gear, and some AAU coaches have been accused of steering their players to colleges that are sponsored by the same shoe company. And in return, that coach receives more equipment for his AAU teams and money for team travel expenses.
With a star studded team, the 2018 Magic won the prestigious Las Vegas Fab 48 Tip-Off Challenge over a team from Washington DC.
Eric Mobley Replaces Tony Bland
Bland was fired immediately after his arrest, leaving the Trojans with a vacancy on the staff. Since pre-season practice was about to begin and coaches were already preparing for the season, Andy Enfield elected to promote Director of Scouting Martin Bahar to fill the coaching vacancy for the 2017-2018 season. As most fans recall, the Trojans (without D’Anthony Melton) had a very good season, but were ignored by the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
As soon as the season ended, Enfield hired Eric Mobley to permanently fill the vacancy. Bland and assistant coach Jason Hart were hired by the Trojans when Enfield came to USC; they were both from Southern California and were considered high level recruiters. Mobley, a guard for the University of Portland in the 1980’s, was hired in part based on the deep relations he developed while coaching Southern California AAU players.
Some In The Media Were Critical Of The Mobley Hire
Mobley had a recruiting advantage over every other candidate. He had two 5-star sons playing high school and AAU ball. Enfield was not the first coach to hire an assistant from the AAU ranks or to hire a coach who had elite level sons. Over the years UCLA, Arizona and scores of schools hired assistants with deep ties in AAU basketball. Oregon State hired unheralded head coach Wayne Tinkle a few years ago knowing that his son was a top high school player. Tinkle then hired Stevie Thompson as an assistant. Thompson played in the NBA and had two high school sons who were high level players. Over Tinkle’s tenure at OSU the younger Tinkle and the Thompson brothers were by far the Beavs’ best players. The most famous example of hiring an assistant coach to help recruit his son goes back to the 1980’s when Kansas hired Danny Manning’s father. The younger Manning led KU to the NCAA title in his final season and was the first player picked in the 1988 NBA draft.
The Trojans Are Recruiting Compton Magic Players
Many fans are aware that Isaiah and Evan Mobley were on the Magic team that won the 2018 AAU Tournament in Las Vegas. Oneyka Okongwu was also on that team. The three formed a front line that might have been better than any college front line that year. The Magic also had very highly rated guard Johnny Juzang who played at Kentucky as a freshman and has transferred to UCLA.
Big O always wanted to play for the Trojans. Isaiah Mobley, on the other hand, candidly said last season that even though the Mobleys and Big O are close friends, Isaiah and younger brother Evan would likely have signed with another school if their dad wasn’t on the Trojan staff.
The Trojans Are Still Recruiting Magic Players
The Trojans have three commitments for the 2021-2022 season. Six-foot-five, top-50 guard Reese Dixon-Waters plays for the Magic. He can handle the ball, though he fits more naturally at the off guard position. He is also a very good perimeter defender. Six-foot-three Malik Thomas also plays for the Magic. He is a top-100 player and a natural shooting guard.
The Trojans also have their eye on another Magic guard, Mikey Williams, who is in the class of 2023. Williams is being pursued by a number of major schools.
In the 2019 recruiting class, the top two of the five Trojan freshmen played for the Magic. In the 2020 two-player recruiting class, Evan Mobley is a top 3 national player. And as of now, the two highest rated players of the Trojans’ three high school commits for 2021 play for the Magic. The Magic has been producing high level talent for years. The combination of Big O’s desire to play for the Trojans, his close friendship with the Mobley brothers, and the hiring of Eric Mobley has resulted in the Compton Magic starting to become a new Trojan pipeline.