Yante Maten isn’t receiving the respect he deserves.
That’s at least according to Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland, who praised the 6-foot-8 power forward during his time with reporters at SEC Basketball Media Days. Howland was originally asked a question about Maten’s teammate, point guard J.J. Frazier — specifically about what makes him the dynamic player he’s become.
After a brief answer, Howland switched the course of his answer. He then went out of his way to talk Maten up by saying there needs to be more attention paid to the junior from Pontiac, Michigan.
“I think the most underrated player in our league, by far, and I see it from you guys, is Yante Maten,” Howland said. “I don’t get it. I think Maten is terrific. There’s a real argument he’s the best big guy in our league.”
Howland did receive an up close view at the kind of player Maten is. Twice last season, Georgia defeated Mississippi State with Maten posting big performances. In a regular-season game in Starkville, Mississippi, Maten lit the stat sheet up for 25 points and seven rebounds during a 66-57 win. In the first round of the SEC Tournament, Maten posted 20 points and eight rebounds in a 79-69 victory.
Maten was selected to the media’s preseason All-SEC second team, which was announced Wednesday. The forwards chosen to the first team were Arkansas senior Moses Kingsley, the preseason SEC player of the year, and Kentucky freshman Edrice “Bam” Adebayo. Vanderbilt senior Luke Kornet is the only other forward with Maten on the second team.
Maten said that while second-team recognition is nothing to sneeze at, being left off the first team has him determined to prove voters wrong.
“There are a lot of players and I’m definitely blessed to be in the position I’m in right now,” Maten said. “At the same point that I’m blessed, there’s another reason to keep going harder.”
Mississippi head coach Andy Kennedy was in agreement with Howland about Maten.
While the coaches have yet to vote their on All-SEC teams or projected order of finish, Kennedy believes there’s a top two in terms of the best returning players in the conference.
“If I was voting, and it wasn’t Moses Kingsley for preseason player of the year, it would have been Maten,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said Maten’s versatility makes him tough to defend. Maten scored 20 in a 72-71 loss at Mississippi and put up 19 in an 80-66 win at Stegeman Coliseum.
“I think he’s really good. He’s versatile. He’s an inside-outside guy,” Kennedy said. “I’m sure he’s continued to evolve. He’s only a junior in the program. (Georgia head coach) Mark (Fox’s) done a great job strategically of putting him in position to be successful. They got as good of a 1-2 punch as anyone in our league with him and J.J. Frazier.”
Maten finished the 2015-16 season with an average of 16.5 points and eight rebounds per game. Throughout the season, Maten showed off his mid-range jumper and started hitting shots from the outside. Maten’s strength as a power forward is still his post game, which he said has gotten stronger through the course of the offseason.
In a close 76-73 overtime win Georgia had over Arkansas last year, Maten notched 17 points and 12 rebounds. Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said he saw a drastic change in Maten from his freshman to sophomore seasons.
“He’s a guy that one year to the next really, really developed,” Anderson said. “His freshman year, he was really good and then the next year he had the burden on his shoulders. He showcased his versatility. I think he’ll be one of the better players in our league. I love his game. I really love his game.”
Howland said someone recently showed him a list of top 20 pro prospects out of the SEC and Maten wasn’t on it. That, Howland said, “is a joke.”
Feeling Maten is an underappreciated player in the conference, Howland was quite baffled the SEC media would leave Maten off its first team.
“If I could have one player returning from another team in our league, that’s who I want right now,” Howland said.