It was a simple rebound, something A.J. Metz has safely corralled thousands of times in his basketball career. Playing at a Hoop Group camp last summer, attracting interest from Division I programs such as Hawaii and Nebraska, Metz leaped for an errant shot, only to have an opponent sweep his legs aside from below. Metz crashed to the floor, unable to brace for impact, crushing the orbital bone in his cheek.
CT scans returned negative for concussions, but Metz required reconstructive surgery that sidelined him until just before his senior season. He missed the open recruiting periods, so those high-major schools lost interest, replaced by a smattering of low Division I, Division II and Division III offers.
Until several weeks ago, Metz was resigned to traveling the less glamorous route, specifically to Division II Erskine College in South Carolina, a school with an enrollment of less than 1,000 and a mascot called the Flying Fleet.
That is, until Maryland showed up.
Metz accepted an offer Friday to join the Terrapins as a preferred walk-on, officially fulfilling the dream he’s talked about since second grade – playing at a major Division I school, regardless of whether he earned a scholarship or not, regardless of anticipated playing time.
“I just look at it as, everything happens for a reason,” Metz said. “That [injury] happened to me and I could use it for an excuse, but I could choose not to. I use it to make myself better. I think every day that that could have been the opportunity, but it’s not there right now.
Metz is a 3.85 GPA student, according to his online recruitment profile, and wants to become an orthopedic surgeon. Dustin Clark, Maryland’s director of basketball operations who handled Metz’s recruitment, sold him on the program during a visit last Wednesday.
A 6-foot-7 small forward with a solid shooting stroke and deep range, Metz transferred to Bullis for his high school junior season, but played out of position inside the paint. Metz said the Terps project him as a multi-positional player once he arrives for summer school on May 28. He plays AAU for Loudoun Triple Threat under his father Steve, a former linebacker and baseball player for the Terps.
“He never quite had the high school career he or I thought he’d have [due to injuries],” Bullis Coach Bruce Kelley said. “But he was still a very good player, what’s the term people use these days? ‘Value added.’ [Coach Mark] Turgeon won’t have to worry about A.J. ever missing practice or grades. He’s a good character, a good person and he’s got a good work ethic.”
Metz has worked his way up before, having also suffered several knee injuries and a nasty jammed thumb that required rehabilitation. He knows playing time won’t come easily at Maryland, but that’s beside the point. Just crack open the door, Metz figures. Just a chance is all he asks.
“I definitely see opportunity at Maryland,” said Metz, who also pitches for the Bullis baseball team. “I’m going to start at the bottom, and I’m going to have to work really hard. I’ve already talked with coach about this. I’ll play multiple positions, do whatever I can do to make the team better, be it getting some playing time or none at all.”