In the eight years before Joe Schmidle started coaching at University High School in Morgantown, West Virginia, the Hawks had exactly one winning season.

Schmidle’s first team won 15 games in the 2015-16 season, nearly double what it had done the year before. But Schmidle knew, deep down, that his team would be heading toward much bigger things.

He knew Kaden was coming….

At 5-foot-10, Kaden Metheny may not look like your typical school boy superstar, but he was a well known commodity throughout his state well before he got to high school. Schmidle knew that, too.

Metheny always had a pretty jump shot that almost never seemed to miss, and he played with an attitude, honed by hard work — he’s had a personal trainer since he was 5 — and a pretty big chip planted on his shoulder by people who have always, always, told him he was too small.

“Everywhere he went,” Schmidle said, “whether it was AAU or wherever, when you walked into the gym, within five minutes of watching him, you knew he was going to be the guy. He was that much better than everybody else.”

Sure enough, Kaden had an immediate impact, helping University to a 24-3 record as a freshman. As a sophomore, Metheny was a starter on a team that reached the state semifinals and finished 25-2. That 2018-19 University team was ranked No. 1 in West Virginia’s then largest classification, 3A, and featured four senior starters, including Ethan Ridgeway, the school’s all-time leading scorer.

“I don’t know if you will every be able to replace them,” Schmidle told the Morgantown News at the start of last season. “That group was special as far as the chemistry they had and the tangibles they brought along — their basketball IQ and just how relentless they were on defense. They were just winners.”

Only Schmidle had at least one more winner. And Kaden Metheny was about to have his best year yet.

Pairing with another rising junior, K.J. McClurg, Metheny averaged 22.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 3.6 steals. He and McClurg led University to a 24-4 record and the school’s first state championship.

The season included many highlights for Metheny, including making nine 3-point shots and scoring 37 points at the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C., a well-respected Christmas holiday event. The Hawks played nationally ranked Cox Mill (N.C.) High, led by 5-star Duke recruit Wendell Moore, a McDonald’s All-American. Cox Mill won the game, but Metheny won a lot of hearts, playing with a special purpose.

Last September, the Metheny family was rocked when Kaden’s mother, Heidi, was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Her stepfather died of the disease in November 2017 so Heidi and her husband Gregg agreed to get screened. Gregg, a former West Virginia football player, went first.

Doctors found a malignant tumor during Heidi’s screening and she started chemo a few weeks later. To make it to Myrtle Beach to watch her son play, Heidi had to double up on one of her treatments.

Watching his mom work so hard to just be at the beach meant the world to Metheny.

“I was determined to show what I had in that tournament,” Kaden said, “and during that time, my mom was going through a struggle. Her just being there gave me extra motivation to play my best, to show up for her.”

For Kaden, the entire season was for Heidi, really, and when University won the state championship a few months later, Kaden ran to find his mother in the stands, tears running down his face, and his mind racing.

“Winning the state championship was incredible,” he said, “and she was there. For her to witness that and be able to celebrate with her was an amazing experience and I will always cherish it.”

Doctors declared that Heidi was clear of cancer last month, and Metheny has continued his terrific play into the summer, starring for Big Shots Elite West Virginia. Schmidle said in June, Metheny had four scholarship offers. He said now it’s between 15 and 20.

“I can’t even name them all,” Schmidle said. “Everything has gone crazy. I am on the phone three hours a day with coaches.”

For now, the schools recruiting and offering Metheny are mid-majors like Western Carolina and Rhode Island. West Virginia has seen him play but hasn’t extended an offer.

Schmidle, his high school coach, thinks the 5-foot-10 inch height thing is the biggest reason the bigger schools haven’t come calling.

“Absolutely,” Schmidle said, “the height hurts him. If Kaden were 6-2, I’d be talking to (Duke’s) Mike Krzyzewski or (UConn’s) Jay Wright and a lot of  other big-time programs, (Kentucky’s) John Calipari level programs. He’s that good.”

Metheny’s summer coach, Chad Bishop, compares Metheny to 6-foot former ACC guards like Duke’s Bobby Hurley or Georgia Tech’s Mark Price. He thinks Metheny will be as big a star in college as he has been during his high school years.

“Someone,” Bishop said, “is going to get a program-changer. They’re going to get a high-energy kid and one of the most coachable kids they’ll ever have.”

Coaching high school ball in Richmond, Va., Bishop had long ago heard about Metheny and his offensive ability, but what he didn’t know was how good Metheny was on defense, how he would use his (lack of) height to crawl up under bigger guards who have bigger offers and make life simply miserable for them.

Bishop will talk about the eight 3-point shots Metheny made in the second half of a Big Shots live period event last week, when he scored 45, but what he talks about much more is Metheny’s defense.

When Metheny was recently matched up with a guard playing for a showcase team on the adidas Gauntlet, Bishop said he made his opponent fall twice, while Metheny was playing defense on him.

“He’s just a different breed,” Bishop said. “Everybody knows him as a jump shooter and an offensive player. The defensive side is what turned my eyes. He’s put up amazing numbers of the AAU circuit, but the fact that he can guard, and guard point guards who have high major offers and still do his thing? That’s the piece I didn’t expect.”

Metheny said he works hard at that.

“I pride myself on my defense,” Kaden said. “I’m a leader on my team and when my teammates see me defending, it brings everyone else up and we play harder. I try to give everything I have on the defensive end, especially if my offensive side is struggling. That doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I go harder on defense.”

Kaden Metheny, when you talk to him, seems pretty content with who he is. He said he uses his height as a strength, to allow him to get lower than opponents, to cause them fits on defense and to go by them on offense. He’s planning to take his official visits this fall and probably sign with a school in  November. And he’ll just keep working hard, taking up to 500 shots every day in his constant search for…..more.

“I love being challenged and I love big moments and big games,” Metheny said. “I want to keep getting better and better and I don’t want to settle. I want to keep progressing and not be satisfied with what I have now. I’m always looking forward and I definitely want to win another state championship with my brothers and looking to see where I go to college. My parents do a great job and remind me to enjoy the process and not let it get too stressful.”