Chimezie Metu, a 17-year-old senior at Lawndale High who's 6 feet 10 and sometimes looks as if he's flying without wings, remembers the first time he dunked a basketball in a game.
"I caught the ball at halfcourt, took a couple of steps and threw it down," he said of his rite of passage in seventh grade. "Everybody started jumping around and going crazy. I guess they had never seen anybody dunk before."
People still get a little crazy after Metu dunks, because he makes sure each one is memorable.
"Every time I have a chance to dunk, I try to throw it down and get a couple of oohs and ahhs," he said.
When it comes to identifying someone with the talent to play basketball far beyond his teenage years, Metu is at the top of any list. He can jump, shoot, rebound, block shots, intimidate and just do things normal people can't.
"He has as much talent as anybody," Coach Chris Brownlee said.
With a 3.5 grade-point average and a scholarship waiting for him at USC, Metu is going to become a well-known figure on the Los Angeles sports scene. He also has the character to help him endure during tough times.
Just last weekend, his Lawndale team suffered perhaps the worst collapse in championship game history. Leading by 28 points in the third quarter and by 22 points to start the fourth quarter, Lawndale lost to Anaheim Canyon, 103-98, in double overtime in the Southern Section 2AA championship game at
Players were in tears. Fans were in disbelief.
"It was just crazy, all the tweets, all the articles," he said. "I was playing in that game. We were up 28 and it didn't feel like 28. I felt something was going to happen. They kept fighting. They never felt they were out of the game. They had players saying, 'We're going to come back.' They convinced themselves they were going to come back and we got too excited. It was a miracle that happened."
Metu sat in the interview room after the game and calmly answered questions. He displayed the maturity of a teenager upset at a defeat but ready to learn and move on.
"We're going to get back in the gym and regroup," he said the next morning in a phone call.
On Wednesday in an opening game of the Southern California regionals, Lawndale won its Division II opener over Van Nuys Grant, 87-45. The Cardinals play host to Redlands East Valley on Saturday night. It's another opportunity to see Metu, who scored 24 points, had 16 rebounds and contributed several spectacular dunks in the Canyon loss.
Working hard is part of his family background. He was born in Harbor City but lived for six years in Nigeria, where his parents were born.
"People there don't have much," he said. "They work hard every day and make a living with what they do have. I learned to work hard and make a way for yourself."
His loyalty is demonstrated in that he played all four years at Lawndale, something that has become unusual for top players in the era of transfers.
In 10th grade he began to receive feedback about his basketball potential. Then-UCLA coach Ben Howland and assistant Scott Garson were paying him lots of attention.
"I was in love with UCLA and was ready to commit," he said.
Then Howland got fired and Metu was courted heavily by USC, and that's where he's headed.
Growing up, Metu said he enjoyed playing soccer and can still take on lots of challengers kicking a ball with his towering height.
"Sometimes I go out with the soccer team and practice with them," he said.
Playing basketball, though, is what he wants to do.
"It's not only a dream but a goal to play professionally," he said. "I'm ready to keep moving forward."