TV Review: Last Chance U is sports documentary at its best

Coach John Mosley celebrates with his team in Last Chance U
Coach John Mosley celebrates with his team in Last Chance U

Last Chance U: Basketball, Netflix

I CAN'T say that Netflix’s Last Chance U series is in any way original.

Sports documentary is as old as Hoop Dreams in 1994 and Living with Lions in 1997.

But within the genre, Last Chance U is as good as it gets.

Even for Netflix it’s been around for a while. There’s been five seasons of Last Chance U for American Football and now the second series of the basketball version has landed.

The proposition is straight-forward. A behind the scenes look at the blood, sweat and tears of young people trying to make it in professional sport.

Series two of basketball brings us back to East Los Angeles where the desperation to succeed is as fundamental as being given a chance to live.

Most of the young men we meet over the two series have no alternative, other than menial jobs or crime, to a career at some of level of professional basketball.

And they are on their last chance.

In their late teens, they have failed to make college rosters, some because of academic failings and others because of discipline or chaotic family lives, and have signed up for junior college. That place between high school and college that no-one seems to want a part of.

Their only goal is to stand out, catch the eye of a division one college coach and get out as quickly as possible.

Most harbour fading NBA dreams when they arrive in East Los Angeles College (ELAC) and meet head coach John Mosley.

Mosley, their nemesis and their saviour, is the stand-out character of the series.

He accepts no nonsense and attempts a near exorcism of players’ personal and professional failings.

A man whose life is guided by his faith, Mosley sees his mission as to save the young men and “get them out”.

Often that means challenging a lifetime of bad habits and poor attitudes as he moulds his misfits into a team. This requires some shouting for Coach Mosley.

Season one ended brutally with ELAC entering the state championships – the gateway to the attention of division one coaches from across the US – as favourites, only for the competition to be cancelled as Covid hits in the spring of 2020.

Season two sees Mosley, and assistant coaches Ken and Rob, with a new group, trying to turn them into a winning team quickly.

Robinson says of the new recruits: “The day you walk in, you’re proving something. If you’re not a good shooter, you’d better prove it. It you’re undersized and think you can play with the bigger guys, you’d better prove it. If you think you’re better, then come in and do it.”

Undersized is relative in basketball.

Bryan Penn Johnson, one of the stand-out 2022 recruits, is 7ft tall.

Bar his height, he’s typical of the group. He was marked out for stardom early in high school but things didn’t develop as he expected. He made it to a D1 school but was dropped and is now back in ‘juco’ to try again.

Mosley is determined to fix him and the others.

It’s his mission in life but there’s an early setback when ELAC is badly beaten by San Francisco and making the state champions, the showcase for college coaches and the ticket out of the hood, is threatened.

“It’s time to get desperate, get a level of urgency going,” Mosley says to camera after an angry confrontation with his team.

“That’s part of my job too, I gotta do a better job of making these guys desperate for their lives. Otherwise, ain’t none of us gettin’ out, nobody’s moving on, nothing good is gonna happen unless they’re desperate to get the hell out of here. And they ain’t there yet.”