Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer and coach Tyronn Lue stand in the crowded East Los Angeles College locker room. Lue makes the joke that he knows some of the guys in that room are thinking “this is the guy who AI stepped over.”
The Huskies in the locker room laugh. Of course, that -is- what they are thinking, but they are also starstruck.
How often does a billionaire owner and NBA coach come to see a junior college basketball game?
Last Chance U, Season 2 is available now on Netflix. The setting is East Los Angeles College (E-Lack, as the people say) and it follows the season for the Huskies, Coach Jon Mosley and his group of players as they experience life and basketball at the junior college level.
The best thing about Last Chance U is the cameras. It’s also the worst thing. Finally, in episode two, after a Huskies loss and everyone is yelling at each other on the bus, one of the players says something I have been waiting for.
“You guys act one way with the cameras on, and another way without it.”
I mean, do Ballmer and Lue not show up if Netflix isn’t at ELAC? I say no. That adds a layer of fantasy to Last Chance U that makes it weird, but I have watched every Last Chance U episode ever and what’s great is by the time the year ends, the way the players act on camera is the way they act without them.
You can’t fake it. Lue knows what everyone in the room is thinking and by the end of Season 2, you know it too.
There have been seven seasons of Last Chance U, which got its name from the slang that once you’ve exhausted all your other options as an athlete, say you flunked out of school, or got caught with drugs, the last place you can go is a small junior college to play.
The hope is once you get there, you get playing time (minutes), you maybe get your academics straight and a traditional four-year school comes calling.
It started as a football show. Two seasons in Scooba, Mississippi at East Mississippi Junior College where the breakout star was the academic adviser, Brittany Wagner.
Then two seasons at Independence Community College in Kansas with irredeemable and profane coach Jason Brown, who is still kind of a star. Everyone, even the players, seemed high as a kite the whole time.
The last football season was at Laney College in California.
Netflix shifted the focus to basketball in Los Angeles, Season 1 chronicled the 2019-2020 ELAC season. You know it’s coming. COVID. The Huskies finally get it together for the playoffs and boom, the season gets canceled. It’s a brutal climax.
The Meaning Of Basketball
Every Last Chance U season begins the same. You meet a handful of the players. You learn about their horrible backstories. Usually there’s a missing parent, or two. One year, the big reveal at the end was a player was living in his car the whole time the series was being filmed.
Season 2 starts with the usual characters: Shemar Morrow, the star guard who has bounced around and has no direction, big man Bryan Penn Johnson who has washed out at both Washington and LSU, Demetrius Calip, the son of a former basketball star who thinks he’s going to the NBA, like tomorrow.
There is one big reveal about a player’s medical condition, but I won’t spoil it.
There are times you don’t like these guys.
At some point you’re like, you’ve made nothing but bad decisions all your life and you’re still looking for a handout or a gift or someone to do it for them, but then by the end, you can’t wait to see what happens to these players and coaches. You want them to succeed in life, figure it out.
During the eight episodes, there’s a lot of basketball shown, a lot of practices and games – lots of dunks – but it’s irrelevant to the big picture. Basketball is the vessel to get these players and coaches to a better life. Will they take advantage of this or squander it?
That’s what Last Chance U is all about.
This Is What We Do
There is probably a reason why Last Chance U never lasted more than two seasons anywhere, and that’s because it becomes too self-aware. It’s never said, but you must believe that one aspect of recruiting these kids to ELAC is “hey, oh, your whole life will be on Netflix for a year.” That’s just the world we live in today, kids believe that exposure, whether it’s on social media or on a screen is the secret to happiness, even if half the time, it makes them look bad.
Even though these kids are supposed to be ostensibly in college, do they ever go to class? Not so much. There is a throwaway line at one point in Season 2 about classes all being virtual, which makes them a lot easier to cut. Mosley, who is a truly wonderful human being, pays lip service to academics. Morrow is still working on his GED. One player gets an 18 out of 25 on a test and brags about it being an A. (news flash: it’s not).
School/academics is an afterthought, completely. It always has been in Last Chance U.
It’s all about the hoopin’.
The Basketball Diaries
I’ve watched every minute of every Last Chance U and I’ve learned some tricks. First is how they manufacture drama during the game footage. They’ll show an opponent dunk or a worried look on Mosley’s face, but then you’ll catch a glimpse of the scoreboard in the background and it’s like a 20-point lead.
And you’ll never see kids come off the court after a bad play or when Mosley wants to sub them out and ELAC players don’t sit down. They literally leave the gym. Like, walk off the floor. They want you (and the cameras) to know how angry they are, how disconsolate. Even though they’re being totally outplayed on the floor, from what we can tell, it’s not their fault. They just need more minutes.
Season 2 starts and I felt like Mosley had too many guys. The biggest complaint is the players on the bench saying they should play. It gets tired after a while. But then it does seem like Mosley doesn’t know what to do with this team. He has bigs, but no good guard play until the end. He’s hard in practice, almost to the point of Bobby Knight ridiculousness. And who plays for the Huskies at the start of the season isn’t who plays in the playoffs.
But this is also incredibly real.
Guess what, coaches don’t always know how to fit together the pieces they have assembled into a winning team. Even Tyronn Lue knows that. It can take time, and at ELAC there isn’t a lot of it, especially when no one is really invested in the team’s success. Everyone just wants mine.
By the end, you’re rooting for everyone to take the next step. I was thrilled assistant coach Rob Robinson moved on to his own program. I was glad some of the players came back, and others got out of ELAC. Mosley loves his family, loves what he does. Spoiler alert – He comes back to ELAC because he wants to improve lives against tough odds. Ballmer and Lue may not ever show face again, but Mosley will…and you believe he will even if the cameras don’t.