Family and friends surrounded Chimezie Metu as he walked toward the Galen Center exit.
A fan stopped the junior forward to ask for an autograph and thank him for his contributions to USC basketball.
“No problem,” Metu said as he signed a poster, then continued on his way.
The Trojans had just lost to UCLA for the second time this season, and when Metu walked off the court after the game Saturday night, he pulled his jersey over his face and was overcome by emotion in what could be his final appearance on USC’s home floor.
Metu said after the game that he had not made a decision whether he would make himself available for the NBA draft or return for his senior season.
“I’m still here,” Metu said. “I’m still worried about USC basketball.”
When the 6-foot-11 Metu put off the NBA last spring for a third season with the Trojans, he could hardly have imagined it would turn out the way it has.
USC (21-10 and 12-6 Pac-12 Conference) finished second in the conference for the first time since 2002 and secured a first-round bye in the conference tournament in Las Vegas. The Trojans on Thursday will play the winner of the Wednesday game between Washington and Oregon State.
Metu earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors for averaging 15.9 points and 7.4 rebounds a game.
But off the court, the Trojans’ season has strayed.
Associate head coach Tony Bland was fired in the aftermath of his arrest and link to the FBI investigation into potential bribery and corruption in college basketball.
Most recently, it was Metu’s name, along with junior forward Bennie Boatwright’s, that was pulled into the fray when a Yahoo Sports report published federal documents that linked Metu to an alleged payment of $2,000 from a sports agency.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Metu said. “And nobody that I am associated with did anything wrong.”
Boatwright, who is sidelined because of injury, also has denied any wrongdoing.
The Yahoo report came out the day before USC played at Utah. The next afternoon, Metu scored 14 points to help the Trojans to a 74-58 victory.
Coach Andy Enfield said the school’s compliance office was able to quickly clear Metu and that there wasn’t a concern about his eligibility going forward.
“Based on the information we have right now,” Enfield said, “we are extremely confident.”
Metu will be crucial to USC’s postseason success as the Trojans sit on the bubble of a third consecutive NCAA tournament berth
Despite the turmoil, Metu said he had no regrets about returning for his junior year.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Metu said. “I’m not worried about what I could have done, what could have happened. I’m here, I’m living in the moment.”
Enfield admitted that the circumstances have been trying for coaches and players.
“It wears on all of us,” Enfield said. “Because you feel for people.”
Metu, who is projected as a potential first-round pick if he gives up his senior season, said he was proud that USC was able to overcome the seemingly never-ending obstacles to finish second in the Pac-12 and set up a potential NCAA tournament berth.
“We’ve got guys fighting and it’s just a testimony to the team,” Metu said. “We keep fighting and we keep working and sometimes things work in our favor and sometimes they don’t.”
VS. OREGON STATE
When: 6 p.m.
Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas.
On the air: TV: Pac-12 Networks. Radio: 710.
Update: The 10th-seeded Beavers defeated No. 7 Washington, 55-51, in overtime on Wednesday. The Trojans swept the season series against the Beavers, winning by seven points in Corvallis before a 13-point victory at home. Tres Tinkle leads the Beavers in scoring, averaging 18 points a game.