New Last Chance U: Basketball Season Highlights Personal Stories


Photo courtesy of Netflix

Last Chance U: Basketball focuses on basketball players at East Los Angeles College

It’s March — the biggest basketball month of the year — which means that the top Division I basketball players will be featured throughout their journey to the championships. But what happened to those who weren’t able to make it to that level? The series Last Chance U does an incredible job telling the stories of some of the most talented college athletes you’ve never heard of.

It centers on junior college football and basketball teams made up of young men who were rejected by Division I schools for various reasons, including off-the-field issues, academic performance problems, injuries, and being overlooked from a talent standpoint.

The series provides great insight into the kind of lives these players lead — it isn’t just about the battle they go through on the court or field, but how they manage their struggles outside of sports, too. As a college student, it’s impossible not to be impacted by stories of other college students that highlights struggle and overcoming challenges.

The most recent basketball season of the show came out in December 2022. This was the second season following the East Los Angeles College men’s basketball team led by Head Coach John Mosley. The show centers around several players to get a few different kinds of stories, and this season in particular has some compelling ones that really humanize them.

Historically, the show has included stories of athletes who were big stars as high schoolers and some who had even previously attended Division I schools but had to leave for one reason or another. This season, the show focuses on Bryan Penn-Johnson, a University of Washington and Louisiana State University transfer; Demetrius Calip II, a University of Illinois Chicago transfer; and Shemar Morrow, a former Ohio high school star who was dubbed “the next LeBron” for his highlights as a sixth-grader, but didn’t get any Division I opportunities.

Last Chance U really gets into the disappointment and letdown these particular players face. Most of the young men featured in the series don’t want to be playing at a junior college, especially those who once enjoyed the privileges of playing on scholarship at a Division I university.

Out of the athletes in the most recent season, Penn-Johnson has the most compelling story. His issues started with the frustration of limited playing time on a highly talented roster at Washington, followed by academic issues at LSU that brought him to ELAC. The initial image I got of Penn-Johnson was that he thought college basketball would come easy to him as a seven-footer. However, we learn about things in life that held him back, like dealing with experiencing houselessness and simultaneously having to take care of his sister. It prompted me to try to imagine how low schoolwork would be on my list of priorities if I were in that situation. One of the most memorable moments of the season shows Penn Johnson explaining why he always sleeps on his back with his knees bent: He was used to putting his belongings under his legs to prevent them from getting stolen at the homeless shelter.

Other players were simply overlooked in high school, and Last Chance U shows their hunger to earn a scholarship as well. Josh Phillips is an example of this, and the show tells his story thoughtfully. Early into Phillips’ feature in the season, we learn that he is autistic, which can carry a stigma in the sports world. From a basketball standpoint, he gets treated no differently by Coach Mosely and the assistant coaches. They understand that Phillips might process things differently, but they know he’s an asset to the team and want to get the best out of him. Throughout the season we see Phillips work hard on and off the court, and it pays off for him. His story is so powerful because there isn’t much representation of autistic athletes and is another reason to give the show a watch.

Another highlight of the most recent season is the story of Damani Whitlock. He is another player who shows tremendous grit, which encourages viewers to cheer him on. He’s only six feet tall, deals with heart issues, and broke his nose during the season, but could be the hardest-working player on the court. The show captures his emotion while he navigates various obstacles effectively.

Viewers can feel the depression that hits him when he’s forced to miss time at the start of the season due to his heart condition, as well as his excitement when he makes a great play on defense to help his team win. There’s a real level of investment in the players that the show calls for from the viewers.

These are just a few of the highlights of season two of Last Chance U: Basketball. This edition of the show tells many more incredible personal stories of players and coaches. It also details an impressive run from the ELAC basketball team during their 2021–22 season and has plenty of basketball drama. It’s definitely worth a watch if you’re looking to get into the basketball spirit this March.