Chimezie Metu became a Lakers fan in the time of Shaq and Kobe, not Magic. But, growing up in Lawndale, like any kid he heard about the legend of Showtime. And a couple of times during Metu’s career at USC, he’d see that Magic was in the building.
“I never actually got a chance to go and shake his hand, to talk to him,” Metu said.
At the end of Metu’s predraft workout Wednesday with the Lakers, Johnson, who watched quietly from the sideline with Lakers coach Luke Walton, made his customary offer to potential draftees that earn the invite to don the purple and gold for a day — get their phones and pose for a photo with him.
“That was crazy,” Metu said.
Metu’s journey from Lawndale to Lagos, Nigeria, back to Lawndale and onto the campus of USC the last three years will likely lead him to a new city — he is projected to be selected near the end of the first round or early in the second. The Lakers’ pick at No. 25 overall puts him in their range. That he got to make this stop in El Segundo, just down the road from Lawndale, felt as if it were meant to be, especially for his first workout.
“I lived 10 minutes from here, been a Laker fan my whole life,” Metu said. “Just being in here is crazy to me, you know? I’m probably going to have a lot more workouts, but this is going to be my favorite one, one I’m going to cherish a lot more.”
Metu, 6 feet 11 and 225 pounds, is one of 69 players invited to the NBA draft combine May 17-18 in Chicago, where he will try to cement himself as a first-round pick. Everything is in front of him now, after a downright confusing junior season at USC in which the Trojans finished second in the Pac-12 Conference but did not receive a berth in the NCAA tournament.
USC, ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press preseason poll, played the season under the cloud of an FBI investigation into the underbelly of college basketball that turned up USC associate head coach Tony Bland as one of four college assistants indicted on bribery charges. USC fired Bland and later Metu was linked to the case in a report before USC cleared him a day later.
USC suspended sophomore guard De’Anthony Melton for the season because of his reported connection to the bribery case. Melton is going through the draft process with Metu and could be helped by scouts having fresh eyes on his game.
“I’m really happy for him,” Metu said. “I feel like he’s ready. He had a whole year just to work on his game, work on his body. I think he took full advantage of that. He’s going to be really good at the next level.”
Also working out in hopes of catching the Lakers’ attention were 6-9 power forward DJ Hogg of Texas A&M, 6-7 swingman Cody Martin of Nevada, whose twin brother worked out for the team Monday, 6-6 shooting guard Shake Milton of Southern Methodist, 6-5 shooting guard Allonzo Trier of Arizona and 6-2 point guard Lindell Wigginton of Iowa State.
As for his hopes on draft night, Metu said he wants to show teams that he’s capable of defending on the perimeter, too, that he’s a player who can defend smaller, quicker players on a pick and roll. He also doesn’t think teams appreciate his outside shooting ability.
Metu said he knocked down some jumpers for the Lakers’ brass. And maybe, if things fall right, Wednesday won’t be the last time he puts on that purple and gold practice uniform. He won’t be presumptuous, though.
“I’m really, really grateful to be here right now,” he said. “It was a dream come true to come here and work out.”