UGA Basketball

Maten makes ‘right decision’ to return, ready to lead UGA in final season

Georgia's Yante Maten answers questions during the SEC Men’s Basketball Media Day.
Georgia's Yante Maten answers questions during the SEC Men’s Basketball Media Day. AP

Yante Maten has shown the propensity to finish around the hoop. He can bring a finesse game or play physical in the paint. Over the past two years, Maten has extended his scoring range to the 3-point line at the top of the key. Over the summer, he has worked on improving his long-ball from the wings.

Maten has been a formidable defender, too, swatting shots to the tune of 1.5 blocks per game a year ago.

You would have to go out of your way to find criticisms of Maten, who was named the media’s co-SEC preseason player of the year.

Part of Maten’s drive to improve, however, has been through critiques he has heard and taken in. No, he doesn’t pay too much attention to what people say. But he would like to change perceptions people may have of what could be considered weaknesses.

“I try to take all the criticisms and the positives and try to build up on it,” Maten said. “I try to make sure my game is solid and doesn’t have any holes in it.”

Perhaps any of these perceived weaknesses helped lead Maten to withdraw from the NBA draft and return to Georgia for his final season. A main factor in the decision, however, came down to prayer. Maten, a non-denominational Christian, said he didn’t hear what he needed in order to remain in the NBA draft, which he initially declared for and withdrew from before the deadline.

Once his decision was final, Maten finished rehabbing the sprained knee he suffered late last season and got to work preparing for his senior year. Head coach Mark Fox said Maten has not only returned to form but has improved physically as an athlete.

Fox said he believes Maten is probably in the best condition of his career.

“I think he’s a better athlete than he was a year ago. He’s more explosive,” Fox said. “He just had a phenomenal offseason. Sometimes a guy declares for the draft, and it can work the opposite. They come back and think maybe they’ll never make it. He came out of that experience hungrier than I’ve ever seen him.”

Maten became a whole different player for teams to guard when he added the 3-pointer to his arsenal. As a junior, Maten made 48.8 percent of his 3-point attempts, although he was selective by making 21 of only 43 shots.

Fox hinted that Maten may have more freedom to take the outside shot, saying the Pontiac, Michigan native could have taken more last year if Fox would have “loosened it up some” for the big man. In a win over Vanderbilt last season, Maten made two of his three 3-point attempts, which caught the eye of head coach Bryce Drew.

“When he’s shooting the ball on the perimeter, it takes his game to a different level,” Drew said.

But Maten, who averaged 18.2 points, still did, and will continue to do, most of his damage down low in the paint. Texas A&M forward Robert Williams, who shared co-SEC preseason player of the year honors with Maten and Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr., remembered how tough of a matchup Maten was in a 63-62 Texas A&M win.

In that game, Maten scored 19 points, brought down five rebounds and recorded two blocked shots.

“Yante’s about his business; that’s all I can say,” Williams said. “When he gets it, he’s a dominant finisher. He’s there to score. I feel like playing against players like him make me 100 times better, defensively and offensively.”

A year ago, Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland said Maten was being overlooked within the conference. Now that Maten is garnering more attention, Howland feels his take has been validated.

“He’s so good in terms of using his body to seal people,” Howland said. “He has great touch around the basket. He can face up. He’s a good screener. I said here at (SEC Men’s Basketball Media Day) last year that I think he’s the best big guy in the (conference) going into the season. I’ve been on the Yante Maten bandwagon for a while now.”

In the end, Maten believes he made the correct call to return for a final collegiate season.

While he has plenty to work on individually, he also wants to help lead Georgia back to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year drought.

“Talking to my family, talking to my coach, talking to the people in the NBA, it was the right decision for me to keep developing and keep growing,” Maten said. “And I want to win here at Georgia. I want to get us to that next level where we’re going to win in the NCAA Tournament. That’s been my goal since I came back. That’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to win.”