Review: Last Chance U: Basketball (Netflix)

Last week Netflix released the latest installment of their widely acclaimed sports docuseries, Last Chance U. For this season, filmmakers followed the East Los Angeles College basketball team, the first time the series hasn’t involved football. For other reviews we’ve done here at Cosas Totum, click here.

The Premise

If you haven’t watched any Last Chance U seasons, you should. It’s a great look into junior college athletics from the perspectives of the players, coaches, and academic advisors. Seasons 1–5 cover juco football programs in Mississippi (seasons 1 & 2), Kansas (seasons 3 & 4), and Northern California (season 5). It’s a glimpse into the football mindset and the pressures of performing in order to get a scholarship. The most recent installment covers basketball, which is different athletically, emotionally, and mentally, but similar in that the end goal is still to get a scholarship to a larger program.

The East Los Angeles College (“ELAC”) Huskies basketball team, coached by former college player John Mosley. The team is good and has recently seen a lot of success, but Coach Mosley hasn’t been able to get over the competitive hump to win a state championship. The documentary follows the team as a whole but focuses on players DeShaun Highler, KJ Allen, Joe Hampton, and Malik Muhammad. It also focuses on head coach John Mosley and his support staff, coach Rob Robinson and Ken Hunter. The series covers the 2019–2020 basketball season, and show how Covid impacted a promising team. There are eight episodes, each running about an hour, and typically each episode will have a focus on one or two specific people in addition to footage of the team as a whole.

The Review

I want to begin with a disclosure. I love basketball. At one point in my life I was a pretty decent player, and I’ve always been the specific type of nerd to get into the mental and philosophical parts of anything I do, so I pretty much stayed in the deep end of all things basketball until after college. I know that doesn’t really matter, but I only say it because I’m about to tell you how much better this installment of Last Chance U is better than the football versions. Don’t get me wrong, I love the football ones. I mean, how can you beat a referee on coach physical altercation? (warning, NSFW language in the video)

But I just love basketball so much. And there are more games in a basketball season, so the ups and downs come at everyone quicker. Basketball coach John Mosley isn’t a loud, foul-mouthed dummy like the football coaches in Mississippi and Kansas were, so that was interesting to see. Coach Mosley is a devout Christian and incorporates his faith into his coaching.

A lot of on the court drama unfolds, between players being upset about playing time, or shooting slumps, or arguments over skills. The off the court drama is not as intense as the football seasons. This may be because there are so many more games to cover in eight episodes. For instance, there is not nearly as much interaction with the academic counselors in this season. Additionally, there is not as much about the recruiting processes during the season.

But the coverage of practices and games is better. With only about 12–15 total players and coaches to keep up with, you can see who is doing what at all times. If someone is having a bad practice or a bad game, you can see how others react to that much more clearly than if it was a football team with seven or eight times as many people on the sidelines.

I do wish there was more about the recruiting and off the court stuff. We do glimpse into DeShaun Highler’s life quite a bit, discovering that his mother died of cancer about a year before the season began. He does not have a paternal influence other than his coaches, and watching someone so young deal with the fallout of something so tragic in real time is interesting.

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Head Coach John Mosley

But I will say that head coach John Mosley is the first coach I’ve seen who I would honestly believe truly cares about the players more than the game. Coach Mosley is clearly a sincere man who wants his players to have a chance to improve themselves and escape the pitfalls that unfortunately consume many people in underprivileged parts of the world. He wants to show that basketball is one way to improve yourself, but that it’s important to be a good person in the process. And I get the feeling that even in the most important moments, he would take advantage of an opportunity to use a teachable moment to make the guys on the team understand that there’s more to life than sports.

The players do get to react to the death of Kobe Bryant. Most of these players were born after the year 2000, so they grew up with the same frame of mind as I did with Michael Jordan. It was fun if not a bit voyeuristic to watch these players mourn the loss of an idol.

Of course the most globally relevant portion of the series is the onset of Covid. When Covid first hit, ELAC was in the juco playoffs in California, and the team reacts as other college and pro seasons are canceled. It did bring back memories I had already forgotten I had. The uncertainty of what was going on, the leery reception of Dr. Fauci, and how the confusion of Covid’s origins and treatment affected so many people. Coach Mosley points out that canceling sports will likely result in some players from tough areas getting back with the wrong crowd. Those sort of side effects of the lockdown were largely unconsidered by politicians. I’m not offering an opinion on the lockdowns, but I am saying that politicians and other civic leaders should have taken that into consideration.

Overall, this was a great show. The one bummer is that all of the Last Chance U seasons have been so well executed that the fact that it’s so well done is a bit ho-hum. It is my favorite season of Last Chance U that I’ve seen so far, and I hope they continue producing basketball shows. For that matter, I hope they continue to do football, too. Maybe even baseball. Or even more cheerleading. I loved watching Cheer. I just love sports documentaries and want more of them.

The Conclusion

This season is great. Normally we review entire shows and not just seasons, but because this is somewhat anthological, we’ll make an exception. We will give this a 8.5 out of 10. I know, that’s a big number, and it’s not really fair because it’s just the one season. But life isn’t fair, so here’s where it lies in out overall rankings:

Breaking Bad9.7
The Wire9.6
Seinfeld9.0
Downton Abbey8.8
Last Chance U: Basketball: 8.5
The Office (US): 8.4
The Queen’s Gambit8.2
Scrubs8.0 (which would be higher but that last season was so bad)
Parks and Recreation7.8
The Newsroom7.0
John Adams6.8
Tiger6.5
Firefly Lane5.5
Last Man Standing5.0
Weeds4.5
How I Met Your Mother4.0
Two and a Half Men2.5
The Big Bang Theory0.3

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