By Annette M. Lesure
Netflix docuseries “Last Chance U: Basketball” follows the East Los Angeles College Men’s basketball team as sophomores struggle en route to Division 1, the highest level of intercollegiate athletics.
The team of former D1 recruits and powerhouse players manage at-home and college adversities as they hustle in a battle to make it out of “JUCO,” the junior college basketball level.
The eight-episode spinoff of the original Netflix show “Last Chance U” delves into the ELAC players’ and coaches’ lives. It depicts their rise from ashes to success and is not for the faint of heart. Viewers will witness the heart-wrenching efforts of the players’ blood, sweat, and tears, driven by a passion that derives from their personal-life struggles.
ELAC Basketball is the meaning of faith, family and bonds that tie and create camaraderie in this team sport. With an ensemble of pure-hearted coaches and staff, Netflix takes the viewer into their homes as they see first-hand how it was no accident that they all ended up at ELAC.
Fans will get acquainted with one of the nation’s hidden gems that were ranked #2 in the state of California. Elans should brace themselves as they witness the rawness of the real-life struggles of fellow Huskies come to light.
Fans will get to know the players, including Deshaun Highler, who endured the most significant loss of his life before making it to sophomore year. Highler and the other players battle their inner demons as they stand the test of time in this basketball series.
Head Coach of Men’s Basketball, John Mosley, a father of three teenagers, took his parental patience to the basketball court. When talking about these athletes’ troubled pasts, he recognizes that not every student will be perfect. “The students are going to make mistakes. They’re diamonds [in the rough], and I share all the time that we just need to get to that diamond. For some of us, the diamond is completely covered, and no one wants to crack it. The ones that are super raw are the ones I gravitate to. Those are the ones that remind me of myself growing up in the inner city,” Mosley said.
When talking about the players’ at-risk histories, Mosley said, “I will not share the deep personal issues of every one of those young men that you may have seen act out [on the show]. There are some deep-seated issues where we all saw it and understood. People now see why I allowed some reactions to happen. I stuck with all of them, and they are doing well because I allowed them to act out, and slowly we started to chip away toward the diamond. But hey, let’s start to change this response. ‘I’m gonna let you act out because I understand what is going on, but we have to change that no matter what the level of adversity there is. You still have to change your response in regard to the worst things that are happening.'”
“Now, what’s around the diamond is the poor response. I see the performance, and it reveals who Joe Hampton is, for example. If he can handle a high-pressure situation and be poised and lead his team, at the moment where there is the most pressure, and decide ‘Hey, I’m gonna lead us through this,’ then to me, that’s who he is. I just have to chip away at all the other stuff that’s around it and get away from the responses so that diamond can shine through,” Mosley said.
Regarding the athletes’ behaviors, Mosley said, “It’s unfortunate in our society, sometimes we immediately stereotype and say, ‘that’s a bad person, or that’s a bad kid.’ So, I talk about ‘basketball reveals.’ To me, when I see Joe Hampton play, I see it reveals his character, not him screaming. I see his character by how he plays. I see him being unselfish. I see him rooting on his guys, and I see him trying to win. Now, him responding to a small adversity because he didn’t get a foul call or because I took him out of the game… that’s the response we have to learn how to change.”
Mosely said, “In regard to the revelation I get of how he [Hampton] played, that’s something that he loves. He loves the game, so I can see who he is. Just as a ballerina, a singer, an actor, or anybody in some level of arts… they’re expressing themselves through their art. And then away from their art, they may be an introvert, or we may call them ‘arrogant,’ we may call them this or that, but we can see through their art who they really are. With Joe Hampton and Deshaun, I can see through their art that they are unselfish leaders, determined to win, focused and not afraid of the moment. So, for me, that’s the diamond that I see.”
Mosley said he handles the athletes acting out by approaching them with love. “When you act out of love and compassion, it’s easy to understand what they’re going through, and then once you know… even me, I can kind of see myself in them. And I know that their response is not because they don’t wanna be here or wanna get kicked out, or they don’t want a scholarship. That’s not why they respond like that. If they’re responding, it’s because there’s something going on, and we have to get to the root to find out what happened.”
Mosley said about managing the team, “It’s not all Xs and Os, that’s the easy part. That’s the overall execution of basketball or any sport. We write on a clipboard that we have, and we put an X and an O for an offensive player and a defensive player. We kinda show the players what to do, and we write up what plays we wanna run. Ultimately, that is the easy part of basketball and the success of a program. That essentially is about 10% to 20% of what the make-up of a basketball program is. The other 80% is the psychological part, it’s the relationship building, it’s making sure we’re managing personalities. Trying to get a hold of these young men, to get them a home, to make sure that they’ve got a full belly, finding ways that they can eat, are all the things that are hard at the community college level.”
Mosley said he lives by the quote “Rules without relationships equals rebellion” and uses it to describe the respect and love he has for his athletes. “If you don’t have a relationship with the students, they’ll rebel. If you do, then they know you care. I think my biggest gift is not teaching guys how to play ball, I think it’s discernment, understanding people and understanding how to manage people. So, I continue to pray, ‘Hey Lord, give me discernment, give me wisdom, so I can go out and do what needs to be done so that I can impact these young men’s lives,’” Mosley said.
Mosely said this group of young men were the best he’s ever had in his academic career. “Regarding their togetherness, those guys played for each other. I felt different about this team. I had more guys that refused to lose.”
Mosley said he and his former sophomores remain close. “On the court, I’m demanding, and I won’t let them get away with much, but off the court, we have a great relationship. I try to stay practical and relevant. I don’t stay up on all the lingo, but they know that I’m real and I’m authentic, so there’s nothing fake here. There’s always a conversation, and an ear for them to speak with me, they still call and ask for advice. I still help Joe Hampton and Deshaun to this day, I just mention those guys because those are the ones we saw in the documentary. I hear from all 15 guys, and I talk with them, and they have issues that just weren’t documented. It was the same issue going on for all of them. I thought they [Netflix] did a great job putting together the content because I really had privacy concerns.”
Once the 2019 athletes took college basketball by storm, Mosley opened up about his apprehensions of accepting the Netflix show. “I didn’t want to have anything to do with it because I had seen the previous shows, and I said, ‘I am not that entertaining. I cannot compete with those guys, there’s no way I’ll do it.’ Ultimately, I spoke with my friend who coaches junior college basketball, and he said, ‘John, they need to see how you do it and how it’s done in a positive light.’ Then I asked my pastor, and he encouraged me as well. I didn’t have anything to hide, so I decided to do the show,” Mosley said.
“The person putting together the show content mentioned, ‘Hey, you don’t have to worry about advocating for the production,’ but I do have to give credit to the production and the editing. It had my personality in there, and I said, ‘Hey man, whoever did the soundtrack, I’m loving it. We got some great artists in there, like The Isley Brothers, The Pharcyde group (An alternative hip-hop group formed in 1989 from South-Central Los Angeles). ‘In my younger days, I used to sport a shag’ (Mosley sang reminiscent). I mean, I’m just listening like, wow, the soundtrack was amazing, and then I shared a couple of the gospel songs. The production team picked the right one. I don’t think that was the song necessarily playing when I turned it on, but in the moment, it was phenomenal. I think that was the best thing. I love music, so I thought how they tied it all in was amazing,” Mosley said.
Mosley said he was emotional when he first watched the show. “When my family and I watched it, I’m looking over and my daughters and my wife were tearing up like, ‘These boys, they need you,’ and then I shed a tear at one moment, and I’m pretty sure almost everybody did. I had a friend call me and say, ‘Man, my wife and I are sitting here crying,’ and we’re talking about tough adult men here. These emotions that everyone was able to relate to in some way, had them shedding a tear whether it was on the inside or out.”
Regarding handling sudden stardom, Mosley said he hasn’t figured it out yet. “My kids have fun with it. I went to my daughter’s softball game, and they were like, ‘Hey Leah, your dad, he’s… crazy!’ ‘Cause I’m usually quiet, and I sit back and watch and don’t say anything. All the girls on her team are looking at me like, ‘Oh my gosh, there he is.” Mosley said grocery store trips now include running into starstruck fans.
Mosley said the last time he googled himself, there was a barber who does hair for actors, a famous football player and writer named John Mosley. Mosley said about Googling himself now, “To me, it still doesn’t seem real, it’s just like somebody put it up there, and it’s fake, you know? It was so far-fetched when I would Google my name before, I would have to scroll all the way down to find an article that my name was in. I would have to go find a picture that came from my LinkedIn or a picture that came from the website at East LA College. It was like you could barely find it but now it’s just every picture from ‘Last Chance’ is up there.”
Mosley said about the Netflix release, “I think this weekend gave a lot of people the opportunity to take a look at the show. I said, ‘Hey, I’m gonna wait till the weekend for them to binge [watch],’ then a lot more people reached out. I’m talking about my email box going ‘bling, bling, bling.’ It literally goes like that, and I started out doing great. I was responding, sending bright and long emails. ‘Hey, thanks for the shout-out,’ ‘Hey, thanks, I’m glad I can encourage you.’ ‘We’re excited!’ ‘Hey, to come to a game.’ I got through ten emails, and now it’s just too much I can’t even manage it.
Mosely said he’s trying to figure it out. “Everybody was like, ‘Everything’s gonna change, you’re gonna be busy,’ I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever, I can handle anything.’ But no, it’s tough, I really didn’t have social media up until recently. I had my Twitter, but I never tweeted until two weeks ago, then my Instagram I started two weeks ago,” Mosley said.
“I have a sister-in-law that works for Disney. She said, ‘Give it [the PR] to me, I’ll do it.’ I haven’t let her do it yet, but I think I might have to because there are so many good messages and some people that I probably do need to respond to,” Mosley said.
When talking about developing his basketball program, Mosley said that being at the community college level has helped him find the balance of family and work. “I was at the four-year university level before. That’s a rat race. So, this position opened up, and I was a former student at ELAC, so I said, ‘Hey, let me just go there.’ I don’t think anybody thought it would be a powerhouse program like it is now. The drive and the compassion for the students and players started to draw more people, and then, really good players wanted to come, so here we are. The program built momentum from the beginning, and it just keeps building,” Mosley said.
When offering advice to athletes or students feeling lost, Mosley said, “I think that if you work hard at whatever craft you have, whether it be education, no matter what mistakes you’ve made, there is still light at the end of the tunnel. What I use for myself is my faith. And that helps me get through some of the toughest times that I’ve had in my life. Ultimately, I recommend seeking out some level of mentorship.”
Mosley said that he is pleased about the attention that ELAC is getting, despite his initial reservations about doing a reality TV show. He said that watching the show was “surreal” and is excited about whatever positive messages get across to the public. “It sounds like it’s a good response for those who have had a chance to see it.”
It took a village effort to help these athletes in all aspects, including Student Athletic Academic Counselor Dorothy Teola, who ensured the students remained on the right track to transfer. “I think the show is great for the exposure of men’s basketball. Someone from Netflix approached me, and at first, I was very apprehensive about doing the show because I didn’t want anything to affect what I was doing counseling-wise or how everything was going to be perceived,” said Teola.
When talking about how she handled the various student personalities, Teola said, “Well, I think I have to take a step back and realize that they’re young. They’re 18 to 20 years old. I think they are trying to achieve a goal, and I’m there to help them achieve that goal. Ultimately, it’s on them to make it right. They’re good, fun, respectful kids. We see them on the basketball court, and we see them with their issues and concerns, but when I see them in the office, it’s very different.”
“With student-athletes, we have to really abide by CCCAA rules for California eligibility, and we also have to adhere to the NCAA rules for transfer, so I really can’t afford to make a mistake. I have to make sure that the student is going to be eligible to transfer to the next level, especially not even knowing where they’re going. What we’re battling is the GPA requirements, the required courses the NCAA wants, the student’s major to make sure he has what he needs to transfer into his major. I think we also have to consider making sure academically they’re going to be successful at that next level while making sure it’s a major he’s interested in and that he can pursue,” said Teola.
Assistant Coach for Men’s Basketball Ken Hunter said, “What brought me to ELAC was Coach Mosley’s commitment to excellence in helping young men. His passion for helping kids and his commitment of wanting to chase excellence made me a fan and want to be a part of an environment and program that could do special things.”
Hunter, who passionately committed to the routine of Assistant Coach, shared his disability story. “I was a freshman in college at Los Angeles Trade-Tech playing basketball when I suffered an injury. Just wrestling and horseplaying around with my roommate, we fell on a bed wrong, and I fractured my C5 vertebrae in 3 places and bruised my spinal cord, which instantly paralyzed me from the neck down.” Despite his disability, Hunter remains fully involved with the athletes.
Assistant Coach for Men’s Basketball Robert Robinson said he had only been at ELAC for about six weeks when he was approached about the Netflix show. As a father of three sons that play football, he was already a huge fan of the original “Last Chance U” franchise, and he was very excited about doing the show.
Robinson boosted player morale by helping nurture the athletic environment. “My goal as a coach was, you want your basketball team to show up and really just think about playing basketball, because there is so much stuff going on in their lives. I would do my best every day to wash, dry and fold the athletes’ clothes, then hang up their uniforms. Grab their stuff from the sports medicine store so that they had that in their lockers. I would do all I could so that when a kid walked into the locker room, all he had to think about was giving 100% on the court.”
“When a kid walks in and sees his jersey hanging up, and everything is in its right place, they have a better sense of confidence and a better spirit. There’s a stigma with JC (junior college), and we don’t want that mentality. What we want is our kids to think like Division 1 basketball players, even though they are in that raggedy locker room in East LA. So, you have to transform it in any way you can so that those kids have that mentality. We have to get them to that level with a 20-year-old couch and a dented locker. So, anything I could do to mimic that D1 level, I was going to try to do that every day,” said Robinson, who also discovered his niche in helping tutor the athletes who struggle to maintain their schoolwork.
Former ELAC student Dan Godino, who was a play-by-play broadcaster, was offered the voiceover job on the show by Netflix. He shared that numerous sponsors helped him fund and make possible the various equipment that it took to do the show.
Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Bobby Godinez said that he had regulations to consider when deciding to approve the series. Godinez said he ultimately knew it could only bring good, positive vibes to ELAC and “pushed Mosley hard to do the show.” Godinez, also a father of three children, said, “The athletes are really good and resilient kids,” and said he is also a huge fan of the men’s basketball team.