ATHENS — All along, even after Yante Maten declared for the NBA draft last month, the expectation has been that the UGA basketball star would ultimately be back for his senior season.
Now it’s official: Maten will do just that.
Maten is withdrawing his name from the draft, he announced on Tuesday night. While Maten tested the waters, and participated in workouts with at least two NBA teams, he retained his college eligibility by not signing with an agent.
“I’ve had a good experience working out with teams, and it has helped my development out tremendously,” Maten wrote on his Instagram account. “But I have talked it over with my family and decided to return to the University of Georgia for my senior year. Go dawgs!!”
This is obviously still great news for Georgia, which will thus return one of the SEC’s top players last season. Maten, a 6-foot-8 forward from Pontiac, Mich., was first team All-SEC by the coaches last season and second-team All-SEC by the AP. He averaged 18.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, while missing four games and almost all of a loss to Kentucky with a sprained knee.
“Yante and I spoke often in the past several weeks, and I’m really proud of how he used the NBA draft process,” Georgia head coach Mark Fox said in a statement e-mailed by a team spokesman. “He’s learned a lot, and he will be better because of it. Obviously, we are thrilled he chose to come back for his senior season. His education has also been very important to him since he arrived on campus – and he will have a better path towards graduation now that he is back.”
Georgia, which was a disappointing 19-14 last season, now projects to return nine of its top 10 scorers. The exception is a rather major one: J.J. Frazier, the consensus first-team All-SEC point guard.
But with Maten back, and highly-rated recruit Rayshaun Hammonds, a wing player, the Bulldogs have a potentially strong nucleus. Sophomore Tyree Crump and junior Turtle Jackson are expected to divide up Frazier’s minutes at point guard.
Hammonds should compete for a starting spot at small forward, with Maten’s return meaning he and junior Derek Ogbeide man the two post spots. (Although Maten could see more time on the wing himself.) The backcourt and small forward positions will be interesting to watch, with Hammonds joining senior Juwan Parker, who started most of last year, as well as sophomore Jordan Harris, Crump, Jackson, junior E’Torrion Wilridge.
Two other incoming freshmen, guard Teshaun Hightower and forward Nicolas Claxton, should also compete for minutes on the perimeter, along with senior Pape Diatta. And incoming freshman Isaac Kante joins junior Mike Edwards as depth in the post.
It was set to be a deep and balanced team, with or without Mante. But now Mante’s return gives it some returning star power.