ATHENS, Ga. —Yante Maten makes things easy for the Georgia basketball team.
He makes it easier for teammates to score. Maten takes the pressure off of coach Mark Fox as he leads the Bulldogs in points and rebounds. The junior forward makes it easy for fans to root for him, whether it be for his highlight plays—Maten had a breakaway dunk in the Bulldogs 77-59 win over Gardner-Webb that got fans excited—or staying afterwards to sign autographs.
And perhaps above all else, his play allows Georgia to rack up some easy victories.
“If every kid would allow themselves to be coached like Yante has and then work as hard as he does, they’d all get better,” Fox said. “The game’s fair and he’s reaping the benefits of it right now.”
Maten again led the Bulldogs as he finished with a game high 16 points and nine rebounds. He also added in three blocks, two assists and two steals. In the Bulldogs’ previous game, he racked up 30 points and 13 rebounds against No. 5 Kansas in a losing effort.
He would’ve had better numbers had he not sat for the final 8:23 of the game against Gardner-Webb.
The ascendance from a good player —he averaged 16.5 points and 8.0 rebounds last year compared to 21.4 and 9.3 this year—to a great player isn’t surprising. But it also didn’t come overnight. Maten and Fox both mentioned and improvement in his offseason conditioning which allows Maten to carry a heavier load. Coming into Friday’s game, Maten played an average of 34.1 minutes per game, up from 30.1 a season ago.
Maten also attributes his success to a lesson he learned from former Georgia teammates Marcus Thornton and Nemi Djurisic.
“Win the day,” Maten said. “You just try to win the day and it’ll work out in your favor, instead of trying to win the month or win the week.”
With Maten carrying a bigger load, he’s given his teammates more open opportunities. Early in the game against Gardner-Webb, Maten was doubled-team as soon as the ball arrived in his hands. This allowed Maten to find a cutting Mike Edwards for a dunk. He later found junior college transfer Pape Diatta open a on another possession after Gardner-Webb doubled Maten again.
“He’s a great player. He’s one of the greatest I’ve ever played with,” Diatta said. “He draws a lot attention to his side, and that helps me to just do my thing.”
Diatta isn’t the only player to gush about Maten. Edwards called him his boy—like Maten, Edwards also hails from Michigan—and wasn’t surprised when he dropped 30 on Kansas.
And Maten tries to reciprocate the affection that his teammates have for him. In postgame interviews, Maten tried to get Edwards to smile as the he goes through another boring interview. In the game’s final minutes, with the victory well in hand, Maten is up off his seat, cheering for his teammates who rarely see the court. While some would want to continue playing, it’s easy for him to return the favor of the numerous cheers he gets from the Georgia bench during the game.
Maten makes life easy for the Georgia basketball program. And at this rate, he, like the Bulldogs, figure to only get better and better as the season goes along
“He’s got total trust in what we ask him to do,” Fox said of Maten. “So he keeps getting better and better and better.”