A stress fracture in Matthew Atewe’s left leg spoiled his first season at Auburn, where he played sparingly – and at less than full strength – as a true freshman in 2013-14.
And after undergoing offseason surgery to repair that fracture, Atewe opened it again during an exhibition game at the beginning of this sophomore year.
Turns out, that was the last time he put on an Auburn uniform. The injury wiped out his entire 2014-15 season, and he decided when it was over to transfer to a different school in pursuit of a fresh start.
That school, he announced on Monday, will be Washington.
After a weekend visit to Seattle, Atewe, a 6-foot-9, 265-pound forward from just outside of Toronto in Ontario, Canada, used his Twitter page to declare his commitment to the Huskies.
“It was great, man. I loved it,” Atewe said, reached by telephone, about his visit to UW. “Just the whole campus. I love that it’s near the water. I knew it was a big city, but I never knew that it was, like, just right. It wasn’t too big where you can get lost in the whole shuffle.
“The coaches, it was them and the players, as well. I just loved the whole vibe that I got from everyone over there. That was really the deciding factor.”
Atewe has three years of eligibility remaining, and because he missed all of last season due to injury, he said he will file for an NCAA waiver in the hopes of becoming immediately eligible to play at UW for the 2015-16 season.
He’s unsure of the timetable for such a process, but in any event, he plans to sign financial-aid paperwork with UW as soon as possible. He said he’ll finish the current semester at Auburn before moving on.
Once he signs, Atewe will account for UW’s 11th scholarship heading into next season. The Huskies were, and are, in need of a few transfers to fill out their 13-scholarship allotment following the postseason transfers of Nigel Williams-Goss, Darin Johnson and Gilles Dierickx.
Atewe’s size should help provide depth along a Huskies frontcourt that otherwise features 6-foot-10 fifth-year senior Jernard Jarreau; incoming 6-foot-10 junior-college transfer Malik Dime; incoming 6-foot-8 freshman Marquese Chriss; and incoming 6-foot-9 freshman Devenir Duruisseau.
Ideally, Atewe said, he’ll provide “toughness, being able to rebound, block shots. I can really, really run the floor. I’m pretty athletic when healthy. A lot of the stuff my freshman year, I wasn’t really able to show … just a lot of toughness and being able to play hard and rebound and block shots.”
It was frustrating, he said, trying to play through the pain of a stress fracture as a freshman. He appeared in 24 games and averaged only 14.4 minutes, along with per-game averages of 1.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks. The statistical highlight of that season came in a 64-56 loss to eventual national runner-up Kentucky, a game in which Atewe played a career-high 29 minutes, grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds, and tied career highs with six points and four blocks.
When Auburn fired coach Tony Barbee after the 2013-14 season and hired Bruce Pearl, Atewe said “I felt like I had to rush” back in order to prove he could play.
He ended up reinjuring his left leg, though he said doctors told him the fracture opened in a way that allowed improved blood flow and an easier healing process. He doesn’t feel any pain in the leg, he said, but he’s still building toward 100 percent.
Atewe said he’s grown an inch and gained 35 pounds since his freshman season, when he was listed by Auburn at 6-8 and 230 pounds.
“I felt like my freshman year, there were a lot of people on the outside looking in kind of trying to figure out what was going on, because in high school I was a pretty dominant player,” said Atewe, who starred at Notre Dame Prep in Massachusetts and played for the Canadian Junior National Team.
“They didn’t really know what was going on. It was only me and a few other people. So it’s kind of good that I’m finally able to pick up and really work on my game, and get back to being the normal me.”