Favorite athletes: LeBron James & Roger Federer
Favorite team: Arkansas Razorbacks
Favorite memory competing in sports: Playing Lower Merion in the playoffs last year in a packed house
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: Breaking my nose playing with one of my teammates, one on one
Music on playlist: Hip-Hop and R&B
Future plans: Attending college and becoming an architectural engineer
Words to live by: I’ve always said that “life goes on.”
One goal before turning 30: Make a six-figure salary
One thing people don’t know about me: I play tennis
By GORDON GLANTZ
Walk into just about any high school gymnasium, and it’s common to see retired numbers of icons and banners with names of 1,000-point scorers.
At Cheltenham, the name of Craig Metcalfe won’t be on the walls or rafters.
It doesn’t need to be.
After four years in the program under coach/athletic director Patrick Fleury, Metcalfe has helped to create a culture that will last through many incarnations of future rosters.
“He was just an all-around pleasure to be around,” said Fleury, who played at Cheltenham himself from 2001-2005. “You don’t maintain a program without kids like that.
“Our seniors set the tone for the juniors, the sophomores and the freshmen. They set the tone for those that come behind them. We have a 7-to-8-year window, in terms of what their habits and mindset will be. The groundwork that he laid will surely be there for us to reiterate and to hold kids to that standard, and that goes for being more than just a basketball player.”
Metcalfe had a hard time seeing himself the same way.
“It’s pretty difficult,” he said. “But I definitely think I have a lot of other people’s interests in mind before my own.”
An Abrupt End
Cheltenham’s season ended last Friday in the first round of the district playoffs at Upper Darby.
A day later, Metcalfe – one of the first players off the bench as a D-and-three guard -- was still getting over the disappointment and politely declined to be interviewed.
That didn’t surprise his coach.
“He had a good understanding of what he did and why he did it,” said Fleury. “He sacrificed for us on many different occasions by always putting the team before himself or any individual goal he may have had.”
For Metcalfe, one of many emotions was that sudden sense of finality.
“It is just kind of a crazy feeling,” he said. “This is something that you did your whole life, and adapted into your schedule. Now, it’s suddenly over. It’s just something you don’t want to be over after one (playoff) game. It’s not a good feeling, but I’m happy and grateful for the memories and relationships that I’ve made over the last few years.”
His saying of “life goes on” also helped him during his 24-hour grieving period.
“(Sunday) was kind of hard, and Saturday was kind of hard, too,” he said. “I had to push through it. I didn’t really even get out of bed all day on Sunday. I just needed a day. I didn’t do much.
“I’m kind of disappointed with how the season turned out. I wanted more for us as a team, but I love all my teammates and I enjoyed my season with them for sure. I enjoyed all the memories we made, and all the progress we made as friends in life.”
Making a Racket
Metcalfe grew up also playing tennis, which he put aside for basketball but is now considering a return to the competitive level.
“Nobody knows that about me,” he said. “It’s like an unknown fact, and not a lot of people believe it. I used to be pretty good, and I’m getting back into it.”
Metcalfe went to explain that tennis goes back two generations in his family to his grandfather, the original Craig Metcalfe, who ran the Arthur Ashe program that is now known as Legacy.
“I have been playing tennis my whole life,” he said. “I first did singles in junior high and all that, but I was always playing basketball at the same time.
“And, while I had more fun playing basketball, I was definitely way better at tennis. As the years went on, I just slowly stopped playing. When basketball season came in ninth grade, COVID shut everything down. I didn’t practice or play tennis that year, and I kind of just completely stopped playing.
“So, it slowly cycled out of my life, but that was my main sport since I was like five.”
However, with basketball now in the rearview mirror, a comeback is in the works.
“I think I’m definitely going to pick up the racket for sure this season,” said Metcalfe.
Tennis, unlike basketball, is a sport he can play for life.
“That’s something that I love about it,” said Metcalfe. “It’s a sport, but it’s like meditation. It’s calming to me, no matter how competitive it gets. It brings a lot of relaxation when I play.”
Unlike basketball, tennis – at least in the singles play – is a solitary sport. That mantra of “life goes on” comes into play during a match.
“It’s very rare that you play someone who is good and you win every single point,” said Metcalfe. “You have to be realistic. You are going to lose some points. In basketball, there are a lot of factors as to why certain things happen. In tennis, though, it’s all on you. You have to say, ‘Forget about it. Move on. Next play.’ You have to have that mindset.
“It’s hard to describe. When I make a certain shot, I’ll kind of like compliment myself and give myself motivation to hype myself up. That’s how my mind operates when it comes to solitary sports.”
Building a Future
As for the future, Metcalfe has placed himself in prime position to achieve his goal of becoming an architectural engineer.
“I’ve always loved the idea of taking things apart and making projects for myself,” said Metcalfe. “I’ve always loved LEGOs and stuff like that - anything where I could engage my mind in, anything where I could make a floor plan and a design and just do it.”
With AP and honors classes, he has a weighted GPA of 4.1 and scholarship offers from many HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities).
“Right now, I’m looking at North Carolina A&T, Howard and Hampton,” he said. “Hampton is probably my No. 1 right now.”
“He is well-rounded,” said Fleury. “He had value in basketball, but his value goes way beyond that. I wouldn’t be surprised to look up in 2032 and see him on a ballot. He’s very strong as a person and academically.”
The best part about Metcalfe, whose father (Craig II) is the principal at Cedarbrook Middle School, is that there is even more than meets the eye.
Metcalfe is proud to be deeply immersed in the school community. The list includes Black Student Union, Black Scholars and National Honor Society.
“I put in a lot of hours outside of basketball and school to do those,” said Metcalfe. “I just try to make sure change happens within our school.”
An example of the changes his groups made was successfully asking those in charge to reconsider a rule against wearing hoodies.
“We advocated for students to be able to wear them,” said Metcalfe. “There were other rules like that, where we didn’t agree with something that was going on. We raised our concerns over it. We had meetings with the board and got the situation fixed.”
Unlike other clubs that are more for the experience and/or the fun, the ability to affect real change at a young age was powerful.
“It felt amazing,” said Metcalfe. “I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s kind of surreal, to actually be making changes happen.
“There are plenty of other different activities you can do, but you’re not really making change. To be able to make a change in your school and in somebody’s life is just an amazing feeling.”
Fleury added that Metcalfe’s presence in the school community, as an active student who is also an athlete, is his greatest attribute.
“He is everything that Cheltenham is, on both its good and worst days,” said Fleury. “A kid like Craig is exactly what you want others to emulate.
“He’s amazing. He’s one of those kids who plays basketball but does not rely solely on basketball. He has a lot of academic scholarships. He’s just a good all-around kid. He’s just a better person than anything; just a pleasure to have.”
Leaving a Legacy
What Metcalfe added to a younger basketball team this winter went well beyond the stat sheet.
“He’s liked amongst his peers,” said Fleury. “He was definitely one of our senior staples this year.
“He was just the calming presence with a moral compass. He could quickly assess who’s right and who’s wrong. He was more the mediator than anything.
“This group is so young that he was a more calming presence. He was always honest, whether a mistake was his or somebody else’s. He was just always honest. It’s a characteristic nowadays that is not always there.”
And that’s why the coach has no doubt that Metcalfe is headed for building a legacy beyond a retired number or a 1,000-point club.
“In 4-5 years, there is no telling what he’ll do or what he’ll be,” said Fleury. “He is invaluable, to be honest. I can’t sing his praises enough. There are statistics and all that, but in terms of a person, he is irreplaceable.
“He went through our whole program. He’s one of those kids who, whenever they leave, you miss them.”
When Metcalfe thought of his career, he wanted to make sure to acknowledge his “uncle” Brian Johnson and cousins Osei and Asante.
“They are just people I’m really close with but who aren’t really family,” he said. “They helped me a lot with my journey these last few years.”
Metcalfe also wanted to thank his many teachers and assistant coaches and put his family (mom Lateefah Ellison-Metcalfe is a psychologist) and his little sister, Simone, who is a freshman at Cheltenham, at the top of the list along with his coach.
“(Fleury) taught me a lot of life experiences,” he said. “Inside and outside of basketball. Everything, really. He gave me a lot of wisdom and knowledge.”