ATHENS — Georgia will have to wait a bit longer, possibly more than a month, whether its best player will return next season.
Forward Yante Maten will enter his name in the NBA draft but not sign with an agent, retaining his eligibility until he makes a final decision. The NCAA’s deadline for that decision is May 24, which is 10 days after the NBA combine.
“I have always had the dream of playing in the NBA,” Maten said in a statement released by team. “This is a chance for me to safely see where they project me.”
Maten, a junior from Pontiac, Mich., led Georgia in scoring and rebounding prior to spraining his knee late in the season. He missed the final four games of the regular season, returned for two games in the SEC tournament, then missed the team’s lone NIT game. He still finished averaging 18.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.
The SEC coaches selected Maten to the All-SEC first team, while he made All-SEC second team in the AP writers vote.
“Like all players, Yante now has the opportunity to get information from the NBA and get an accurate read on their assessment of him at this time,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said in a statement. “Once he receives that information, Yante will be able to decide which avenue is in his best interest.”
Maten’s draft stock is uncertain. The web site Draftexpress did not list him in its two-round mock draft, updated Tuesday. ESPN draft insider Chad Ford did mention Maten as a prospect to watch late in the regular season.
At 6-foot-8, Maten has played mostly power forward and center at Georgia, while he would have to play at least some small forward if he were to make it in the NBA. He has shown some ability to hit outside shots, especially from the top of the key. But he would also have to show ability to put the ball on the floor and drive.
The decision will obviously be pivotal to Georgia’s hopes next season. If Maten returns, the Bulldogs will return nine of their top 10 players, though the exception is All-SEC guard J.J. Frazier. If Maten leaves, then even more will be depended on from incoming recruit Rayshaun Hammonds, a combo forward from Norcross who is rated a top 50 national recruit.
In Mark Fox’s eight seasons, he has now had four players declare early for the NBA draft. All three previous ones (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie) ended up staying in the draft. Caldwell-Pope was a sophomore who ended up being a lottery pick and is in his fourth season with the Detroit Pistons, for whom he starts. Thompkins and Leslie, who left in 2011, were both second round picks and lasted one year in the NBA before moving on to international careers.