ATHENS – There’s a lot that’s unusual about Yante Maten. Start with his first name. I mean, how many Yante’s do you know, right?
Perhaps there is another one somewhere, but it’s doubtful. Truly, it’s a made-up name created by Maten’s mother. Toiya Paige took the common letters between her first name and those in the name of Maten’s father, Bryant, and just kind of squished them together until they sounded right. She’d finally have to grab an “e” and stick it on the end, but then it was perfect.
It just rolls right off your tongue. It sounds particularly good when amplified through a mic, like it is repeatedly by Stegeman Coliseum P.A. announcer Sam Franco, who shouts YAHN-tay MAY-ton every time Maten scores. Which is a lot.
Now Yante Maten is one of the most recognizable names in college basketball. He is the leading scorer in the SEC and the second-leading scorer in the history of Georgia men’s basketball. The 6-foot-8, 242-pound power forward has been a one-man wrecking crew in the low post for the Bulldogs. In addition to 19.5 points, he averages 8.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks a game.
And he’s about to play his last regular-season game at Stegeman Coliseum for the Bulldogs.
Tonight is Senior Night for Georgia. Maten will be recognized along with fellow seniors Pape Diatta and Juwan Parker in a ceremony that will start 15 minutes before the 8:35 p.m. tipoff against Texas A&M. All three have overcome their own obstacles and made their respective contributions to the team and the university. Tears are in the forecast.
“To walk the journey from young man to man with them is an incredible experience,” coach Mark Fox said of honoring the three seniors. “So, yeah, there’s a lot of emotion involved. They’ve been terrific young people for our team.”
In addition to being a reflective occasion, it also happens to be a contest of great importance for both teams. Maten will figure prominently in that as well. There are only two SEC players averaging more rebounds than Maten and they both play for the Aggies — Robert Willams (6-foot-10, 240 pounds) and Tyler Davis (6-10, 264).
That’s why it’s kind of hard for Maten to be real contemplative at the moment. Between trying to fight and claw for a few more wins to earn NCAA tournament consideration and being the focus every opponent’s defensive strategy in every game, Maten’s not much into retrospection right now.
“It’s more like, I’m still in it and I’m still trying to go as hard as I can,” Maten said Tuesday. “So, I’m just trying to lead my team to a victory any way possible.”
The NCAA tournament is a bit of a sore spot for all three of these seniors. Parker and Maten have played in only one and that was three years ago. Maten was just a freshman and a backup forward playing behind Nemi Djurisic and Marcus Thornton when the Bulldogs went to Charlotte as a 10 seed in 2015. That they’d draw Michigan State, Maten’s dream school growing up, was a fateful turn. But Georgia would come up short, 70-63, and have to head right back to Athens.
Maten felt certain he’d get right back to the tournament with the Bulldogs the next year. That he still hasn’t remains difficult for him to process, but he hasn’t given up on it yet.
“Of course I wish it would’ve happened more,” Maten said. “But you can’t control what has already happened. Right now, we have a season in front of us. We’re still able to make moves toward the NCAA and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
With Maten, Georgia has a chance against anybody. The accomplishments he has stacked up are astounding despite not having a consistently strong supporting cast on the offensive end.
This season, Maten is the only player in the SEC ranked in the top 10 in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage, free throw percentage and minutes played. He has been the picture of consistency, recording double-figure points in 27 of 28 games, scoring 20 or more 15 times and recording 12 double-doubles. Since the start of his sophomore season, Maten has scored in double digits 83 times in 91 games.
Only Litterial Green (2,111 points) has scored more as a Bulldog than Maten (1,797). Entering today’s game, Maten is also third in career blocks, fifth in career rebounds, fourth in free throws attempted, fourth in free throws made, fifth in field goals attempted and sixth in field goals made.
Last year, Maten earned first-team All-SEC honors and he will this year as well. He’d be a shoo-in for SEC player of the year, if Georgia had won more. He still could claim it.
That was the level of expectation the Bulldogs had for Maten when they first visited him in Michigan more than four years ago and Fox and Jonas Hayes helped his mama carry in groceries in a snowstorm.
“I don’t think you ever project that a guy is going to be in the top five in scoring and blocked shots. But we felt like he’d be an All-SEC player at some point in his career, which he’s been able to do,” Fox said. “He deserves all the credit. He’s been an unbelievable worker. He just remains so coachable. It’s really amazing for a guy as accomplished as he is to still be willing to take criticism and instruction like he does today.”
You can probably thank Mama for that, too. Like his unusual first name – and those two middle ones, Khaaliq and Daiyann – Maten credits his mother for both his passion and ability for the game of basketball. Paige also starred as high school basketball player in Pontiac, as her son would years later, and it was she who taught Maten the game and competed with him until he’d outgrow her around middle school.
“She taught me all the basics,” Maten said. “She gave me the love for the game because we used to play together all the time. She was my biggest teacher. She’s an actual teacher, too, so she’s always going to tell me what she knows.”
Maten also credits his mother for his love of animals and love of the Lord. Accordingly, he is today a devout Christian and he will soon graduate from UGA with a degree in wildlife biology. He hopes to own a rehab facility for wild animals one day.
If you’re sensing a theme here, you’re correct. It’s all about Mom for Maten.
“She’s a phenomenal lady,” Fox said of Maten’s mother. “To raise a young man like he has become is really a credit to his parents. Both his mom and dad, but certainly his mom is who we dealt with in recruiting. She’s a vibrant and terrific woman.”
Whatever his influences, Georgia is certainly fortunate to have Maten on its squad. Four years seem like a long time but for him it has gone by fast.
Maten points to the Belmont game in the NIT last year as his personal highlight, and understandably so. He scored a career high 33 points on 14-of-17 shooting in that one and was 3-for-3 from 3-point range. His low-light came at the end of his junior season when he missed five of the last seven games due to injury and was a shell of himself in the other two.
Maten is healthy as ever for the stretch this time around. He’s hopeful his ultimate highlight is yet to come.
“It’s been an unbelievable experience,” he said of being a Bulldog. “I love playing for the University of Georgia and representing the state of Georgia, my family and Coach Fox. They all made me the player I was here.”
Them, and a mother with a knack for unusual names.