Why you should care
Because this is an outsize talent.
When Chimezie Metu suited up for Drew League, the top pro-amateur league in the country, he was not expecting to meet the Miami Heat’s powerhouse Hassan Whiteside on the court. It was a tough day for “Mezie,” as Whiteside went for 30 points, nine rebounds and six blocks. Little was expected of Metu against Whiteside. Metu was an inch shorter, $98 million poorer, nearly 40 pounds of muscle lighter, with eight fewer years on him.
Yet amid the chaos and dominance from Miami’s star big man, for one moment Metu fooled Whiteside. He drove by him baseline and jammed. For a glimmering Disney movie moment, in the crammed King Drew Magnet High School gymnasium, Metu stood equal to an NBA superstar.
Nothing makes me doubt him.
—Josh Gershon, West Coast scout
Metu, a 6′ 11″ rising sophomore at the University of Southern California, made a name for himself last year with highlight blocks and big-time dunks. In his first rivalry game against UCLA, he posted a career-high 21 points. He dunked, blocked and tossed in a few fadeaway jumpers — feats that 18-year-old players are not supposed to pull off. Since then, he’s added 10 pounds of muscle, participated in the prestigious Adidas Nations camp and, with the departures of three big men from USC, now finds himself with a starting role. He’s primed to be one of the five breakout players in the PAC-12 this year, CBS Sports’ college basketball insider Jon Rothstein says. Metu has all the tools to be something big, West Coast scout Josh Gershon says. “He showed enough signs that nothing makes me doubt him,” Gershon says.
Metu is the rare young big man every college coach seeks, the Swiss army knife powerhouse who can shoot, pass, play above the rim, protect the rim and guard on the perimeter. His stats tell a similar story: Last season, Metu had 18 games with two or more blocks in fewer than 19 minutes per game. Martin Bahar, USC’s director of scouting, helped recruit Metu from Lawndale High School and brags that he’s “very good laterally. He can move his feet and contest jump shots even; has the ability to shoot, pass and cut.” The video-game and film-loving Metu is not majoring in a jock subject — opting for law, history and culture — and spends free time studying game reels. His coaches assigned him a diet of the Hawks, Spurs and Warriors. “[He’s] always trying to learn, not just in basketball,” Bahar says.
Born and raised in Lawndale, California, Metu’s world changed abruptly when at the age of 6 he and his father moved to Nigeria. While he would come back every summer to Lawndale to visit his mother for the next six years, his eyes opened to the world around him in a country cushioned against the Gulf of Guinea. “Living in the area I did in Nigeria, [I saw] a lot of poverty and people struggling. It kind of pushed me. I didn’t want to be in that situation,” Metu says. In Nigeria, Metu played soccer. Basketball wasn’t so popular at the time, but things have changed in the nation best known for soccer and rugby — it’s now produced 17 NBA players, including Festus Ezeli and Al-Farouq Aminu of the Portland Trail Blazers, Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo (of Nigerian descent) and hall of famer Hakeem Olajuwon.
Metu, at 16 years old and 6-foot-8, could have played high school ball at elite academies, but he turned down offers in favor of Lawndale. In an era of prep schools, AAU and one-and-done college kids, Metu’s rare. “Players make their biggest jump from freshman to sophomore year,” says Rothstein, who expects just that from Metu. (Cases in point: Blake Griffin, Kawhi Leonard and D’Angelo Russell.)
“He’s showed a lot of tools to be a really good four in college and at the next level,” says Gershon. Much remains to be proven — freshmen don’t get much court time. But now, with more minutes coming, Metu’s already caught the eyes of NBA scouts. He’s working on postgame and his jump shot and is continuing to add bulk. Coaches can’t keep him out of the weight room, where he’s lifting nearly every day. He also needs to foul less, previously averaging 5.4 per 40 minutes — only five fouls per game are permitted in college.
As Metu gets ready for a campaign where he’ll try to get in the minds of NBA scouts, he might want to take a page out of the book of the monstrous member of the Heat he met in the King Drew Magnet High School gymnasium.
The author is a social media assistant at USC’s Department of Athletics.