USC's Chimezie Metu sat out NIT to avoid injury ahead of NBA draft

A trend that emerged in college football in recent years has crossed over into college basketball — at least in one instance.

Even after finishing as the runner-up in the Pac-12 (in both the regular season and tournament), USC was left out of the NCAA tournament. Instead, the Trojans landed in the NIT as a No. 1 seed and eked out a double overtime win over No. 8 seed UNC Asheville in front of a sparse crowd Tuesday night.

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And as head coach Andy Enfield said might happen, the team’s best player, junior big man Chimezie Metu, opted not to participate. You see, Metu, a probable NBA draft pick, wanted to avoid an injury potentially jeopardizing his draft status. Like a bevy of college football players have decided to do ahead of bowl games in recent years, Metu sat out.

The 6-foot-11, 225-pound Metu is averaging 15.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per game this season. If Metu leaves USC early as this move seems to indicate, an injury could significantly hinder his ability to participate in pre-draft workouts in front of NBA scouts and executives.

In the NBA, draft positioning is significant from a financial standpoint, especially a drop to the second round. Metu has landed as a late first or early second round pick in many mock drafts. If he went down with an injury, it would impact his draft stock and could potentially cost him millions of dollars. In a secondary tournament like the NIT, it’s understandable why he would not want to take that risk.

USC’s Chimezie Metu (4) leads USC in points and rebounds per game. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

As previously mentioned, the path Metu is taking is a path some college football players have taken over the last two years. In 2016, running backs Leonard Fournette of LSU and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford were two of the first (and the most high-profile) to sit out their team’s respective bowl games — the Citrus Bowl for Fournette and the Sun Bowl for McCaffrey — in order to avoid injury and begin preparing for the NFL. It paid off, too. Fournette was selected No. 4 by the Jacksonville Jaguars, while McCaffrey went No. 8 to the Carolina Panthers.

Those players were subject to pretty intense scrutiny for sitting out. But as others have followed their lead, the general public seems to have sympathized more and more with players who make this decision. Detractors will say the player is abandoning their teammates. There is definitely some merit to that point of view. However, on the whole in college football, a player’s teammates have mostly exhibited support.

We’ll see if Metu’s teammates do the same.

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Sam Cooper is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!