ATHENS – Oakland University’s basketball team in Michigan tonight will host visitors from all the way down in Georgia, but the player who grew up closest to that campus will be wearing red and block.
“Two minutes,” Georgia forward Yante Maten said when asked how long a drive it would be from his boyhood home to Oakland’s basketball arena. “Maybe three.”
It’s not the only homecoming. Georgia forward Mike Edwards grew up about 45 minutes away and estimated he would have 50-60 family and friends at the game, including his high school team.
“I’m really, really excited to go back home, see everybody, and put on for my state,” Edwards said.
Oakland, because of its name, often gets its location confused: It’s named for the county in Michigan in which it’s situated, straddling the cities of Auburn Hills and Rochester Hills. Both are Detroit suburbs.
It became known for basketball under longtime coach Greg Kampe, who has guided the team to three NCAA tournaments, most recently in 2011. Oakland’s career assist leader is Brian Gregory, the former Georgia Tech head coach.
“I knew about them,” Maten said. “A lot of people from my area talked about them, and said it would kinda good if I went there. But I knew about the facility, and the school, about coach Campy and all of them.”
When Maten’s stock rose – Michigan State and Indiana were his other finalists – Oakland receded as a possibility. Edwards, a year behind Maten, his AAU teammate, was more heavily recruited by Oakland, before his stock rose too.
“They actually started to recruit me a little bit during my junior year of high school,” Edwards said. “I came to a couple games, so I was around them quite a bit.”
So why is Georgia making the trip? Essentially because of Maten.
It’s not unusual for coaches to schedule non-conference games close to the homes of out-of-state players, and that’s what Georgia’s Mark Fox set out to do for Maten, now a junior and the team’s leading scorer and rebounder.
“Those kids came a long way, a long way from their families and their friends to go to school at Georgia,” Fox said. “So to take them home was something I thought we should really do.”
So Fox scheduled a three-game series, with Georgia going to Oakland the second year. But one bit of red tape existed: The SEC office, as part of its initiative to improve schedule strength in basketball, had to approve the game. It did, because Kampe’s program has been successful, and therein lies the complication for Georgia.
Oakland got off to a 9-1 start this year before falling by two at Northeastern on Tuesday. That began a tough week, with a trip to Michigan State on Wednesday and then hosting Georgia on Friday.
Georgia (8-3 after winning at Georgia Tech on Tuesday) needs the win. So it will try to dispense with the feel-good part of the trip early.
“Obviously Yante is playing well, and so is Mike. And they’re two really good kids, so I’m glad they get to go home,” Fox said. “But we’re going to play a really good team. A very good team.”