Why you should care
Because Charles Jr. could be the next DeMar DeRozan.
Charles O’Bannon and his brother Ed, stars of the University of California, Los Angeles’ last national championship team, in 1995, will be cheering for Charles’ son at his college games next season. But will Charles Sr. wear the cardinal and gold colors of his son’s team? “Doubtful,” he says, laughing.
Charles’ sartorial reluctance is because Charles “Chuck” O’Bannon Jr. signed with the University of Southern California — UCLA’s rival. In explaining his decision, Chuck tells OZY: “The campus, the lifestyle, the coaching staff, the playing style — I kind of fell in love with USC.”
His father, however, had a different initial response — sadness — when Chuck, who has his dad’s brown eyes and thick eyebrows, chose the Trojans. “He is my name, my namesake,” Charles Sr. says. “Of course I want him to follow my footsteps and my path, but I respect him even more for making the decision he has. It takes a lot more strength.”
A formidable prospect, the 6-foot-6 McDonald’s All-American has great body control and an ability to score off the dribble, and he has an excellent jumper. “His range is unlimited,” his uncle Ed says. Chuck averaged 21.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game this season en route to winning state. Jerry Meyer, director of basketball scouting for 247Sports, compares him to another former USC star, calling him a less explosive version of NBA All-Star DeMar DeRozan. “Really good scorer,” Meyer says. “You don’t find many guys who are naturally gifted like him with the basketball in their hands.”
My son is already trolling me. He’s already getting the blood flowing.
Charles O’Bannon Sr.
Despite his DNA, though, Chuck plays a very different game from both Ed — a first-team All-American, the most outstanding player of the NCAA tournament and the ninth overall pick in the 1995 NBA draft — and Charles — a first-team All-American and the 31st overall pick in the 1997 NBA draft. “My dad was more of an exciting player, jumping out of the gym, dunking on everybody,” Chuck says. “[I] shoot it a little bit better than he did.”
Perhaps, but the 18-year-old still needs to work on his defense and maintaining a more consistent intensity. “What he needs to improve at, you can improve at,” Meyer says. “What’s he’s real good at, you’re kind of born with.”
Chuck — a nickname he picked up as a toddler — traces his smooth shooting motion to lessons with his father, who coached his only son for two years at the AAU level, followed by four years at Bishop Gorman High, the Las Vegas–based powerhouse where Charles serves as an assistant coach.
On the Bishop Gorman court a year and half ago, Charles had worked up a sweat, was feeling good — and it was on. Father and son played three one-on-one games, and Chuck won all three. But then Charles went old school, using his 6-foot-6 frame to back him in for layup after layup, leading to a 7-0 shutout. At that point, Charles drop-kicked the ball to the end of the gym and hollered, “I will never play you again!” Charles laughs as he recounts the story. “So the last time we ever played,” he says, “I was the winner.”
Those competitive juices still course through the O’Bannons. After USC defeated UCLA, 84-76, on Jan. 25, Charles was greeted the next morning by a series of smack-talking texts. “My son is already trolling me,” Charles says. “He’s already getting the blood flowing.”
And the blood flowing in Chuck’s veins runs UCLA blue and gold. The school was one of his four finalists, along with USC, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and North Carolina State, which at the time was coached by Mark Gottfried, who had served as an assistant coach at UCLA when Charles and Ed were undergrads.
But since their days playing college ball, the O’Bannon name has become associated with an antitrust class-action lawsuit. Ed was the lead plaintiff in O’Bannon v. NCAA, a 2014 case arguing that student-athletes should be compensated when the NCAA uses their images for commercial purposes (he prevailed at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court refused to review the case). “I don’t think [Chuck’s] thinking about the lawsuit, and I didn’t want it that way,” Ed says. “I don’t want my stuff to bleed into my kids or my nephew. I keep them away from that as much as I can.” Nor did Ed try to steer Chuck, whom he calls “Junior” or Charles, on where to play. “I was happy for him,” he says. “I’m not going to tell him to go to UCLA because we went there. That’s stupid.”
Having an O’Bannon at USC, though, amps up the rivalry a few notches. USC has made the NCAA tournament the past two years. Its coach, Andy Enfield, runs the same up-tempo, “Dunk City” style he employed at Florida Gulf Coast University during its Cinderella run in 2013, an approach that’s drawn top talent to the team, including Chuck. The Trojans will be returning Bennie Boatwright and all five of its top scorers. They’ll also add highly regarded Duke transfer Derryck Thornton. “We should be a top 10 team,” Chuck says.
UCLA, meanwhile, is coming off a 31-5 season and should be in the headlines for years to come — thanks to two more of LaVar Ball’s sons (LiAngelo and LaMelo) who are slated to enroll. As a result, it looks like Los Angeles’ intracity rivalry just got several degrees hotter.
Charles says he would have loved to see his son on the UCLA side, but he’s comfortable with him at USC. “This is his life to live,” Charles says. “I think it was the right choice for him.”