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Big Man on Campus

by Joe Gabriele Beat Writer

Big Man on Campus

Cavs Top Pick Makes His First Appearance in Cleveland

On his first full day as a Cavalier, after meeting some team personnel and the media, Evan Mobley was approached by the incomparable Jim Chones, who eyed up the 20-year-old and – in his Chonesian way – said, “Yep, you’re seven foot.” He looked him up and down. “Could grow a couple inches, too.”

Chones knows big men. And one day on the road or at CCC, the team’s radio analyst will pull the youngster aside and impart some wisdom from a lifetime in the league.

In the meantime, life is moving fast for the former Trojan – who, along with his beaming parents, made his initial appearance in Cleveland on Friday afternoon in Independence to meet staff and media. (It was also the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic shut the season down in March 2019 that media members and outside staff were allowed back in the gym.)

After Detroit tabbed Cade Cunningham with the top overall pick and Houston went chalk with guard Jalen Green, the Wine & Gold selected Mobley – far-and-away the most highly regarded big man in the Draft.

In his single season at USC, Mobley was named Pac-12 Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year.

Jennifer Pottheiser via NBAE/Getty Images

In his single season at USC, the soft-spoken seven-footer was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year. He led the Conference in rebounding and blocks – swatting 95 shots in 33 games, second-most in the nation. He notched double-figure scoring in every game but two.

”At No. 3, we were elated to draft a young man with (Mobley’s) potential,” said Koby Altman, speaking of the highest pick he’s made as GM. “And I think his impact is going to be immediate. We want to move this thing forward, we want to take a step forward next year. We need to supplement with some good vets as well. But we have some high goals in mind for this young group that’s super-talented. And to be able to add Evan at No. 3, we’re extremely fortunate.”

So far, Mobley has let his game do the talking. And it’s good that it’s so loud, because he is not. When asked how friends and family would characterize him, he said, “I feel like they’d describe me as a mellow, chill guy. I’m not a man of many words, but I’ll talk when I want to.”

J.B. Bickerstaff, who came into the gym on crutches after some offseason surgery, was feeling tip-top otherwise. He’s got a new toy that’s unlike anything he’s had as a Cavaliers coach.

”You’ve got a guy who’s seven feet tall who can handle the ball, who can pass the ball, who can play-make, defend,” said Bickerstaff. “The list of his capabilities goes on and on. And what it does is gives you a ton of versatility as a coach. The teams that win in this league and how they win. You look at teams who win in the paint, typically are winning and successful teams at both ends of the floor.

"(Mobley) takes pride in defending and getting stops and shutting people down, so you mix that all together, and that’s my type of guy."

”So when you throw in a guy like Evan with guys like Isaac and Jarrett and our group, they give you an opportunity to win in the paint, and that translates to success.”

Mobley has the entire toolbox as a young big. But he’s also got guard sensibilities, playing on the ball before a massive growth spurt as well as playing with his older brother, Isaiah (who currently plays for USC), on the way up.

”Me, growing up, I played up a lot,” said Mobley. “So I had to be a guard a lot of the times because I wasn’t always the tallest – I was playing up with my brothers – and also having my dad as a coach, he showed me a lot of guard skills growing up, the fundamentals, a good base. And as I got taller and taller, that just stayed with me. That’s why I’m the player I am today.”

That bonus big man skill is not lost on his new head coach.

”I love the passes that (Mobley) makes,” smiled Bickerstaff. “Most seven-footers, they see the floor, and they see the rim. When I watched him, when he put the ball on the floor, he watched where the defense was first, and how that created open areas for his teammates. That’s just rare for a guy his size and guy his age.

”And he takes pride in defending and getting stops and shutting people down, so you mix that all together, and that’s my type of guy.”

The three guys sitting at the podium on Friday afternoon in Independence looked like they couldn’t wait for the season to start – like they found the missing piece of a puzzle.

Summer League starts one week from Sunday; Training Camp in late September.

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