DESTIN, Fla. — Three days before the deadline to withdraw from the NBA draft, a deadline that loomed large on Georgia’s basketball program, Yante Maten and Mark Fox spoke for about 35 minutes.
They spoke about Maten’s decision, how he could develop if he spent one more year in college, what he would face if he turned pro. And two days later Maten finally announced that he would return. Fox wasn’t surprised, but he was relieved.
“I’ve had guys flip at the last minute, so until they actually send their stuff in, you don’t know,” Fox said Tuesday before SEC meetings.
Maten’ had tested the NBA waters by entering the draft last month but not signing with an agent. He wasn’t invited to the NBA combine, but had workouts with at least two teams (Boston and Denver), seeking feedback.
But for as long as Maten waited until withdrawing, his standard for turning pro was actually pretty high, according to Fox.
“He had a target in the first round, which wasn’t just the first round, it was higher than that,” Fox said. “That’s a very smart move. Because if you slip a little bit, and somebody gets drafted out of place and you fall four or five spots, it can be a nightmare for somebody.”
Maten, a 6-foot-8 forward, was Georgia’s leading scorer and rebounder last year until badly spraining his knee late in the year. He has played power forward and center in college, but given his size is more likely to have a different role if he wants to play in the NBA.
Given that, Fox and Maten have discussed using him differently next year – without taking away from what has made him effective for the Bulldogs.
“He’s evolved every year more and more. That’s kind of the natural progression we’ve taken with him since he came,” Fox said. “Will he be used exactly as he was last year, no. Will he evolve to a degree, most certainly. But will he also go back to where he’s done his most damage, absolutely.”
Maten’s return means that Georgia projects to return nine out of its 10 leading scorers from last season, though the exception is star All-SEC point guard J.J. Frazier. Fox also said there is no other unforeseen attrition, according to Fox. And the freshmen check into dorms today, including top recruit Rayshaun Hammonds.
A few other notes from Fox:
Assistant coach opening
Alabama hired Yasir Rosemond two weeks ago for a similar position. Rosemond had been at Georgia for three years, and while he arrived with high expectations for his recruiting prowess the results were mixed. Fellow assistants Phillip Pearson and Jonas Hayes ended up scoring more high-impact recruits, and both remain on Fox’s staff.
Fox said he hoped to finalize a decision in the next seven-to-10 days. And a decision has been whittled down to several candidates.
“We’re going to try to improve our staff. We’re always trying to get better,” Fox said. “What’s always important is that you have someone that can wear multiple hats. I want someone that can go on the road and recruit. I think we’ve got some guys who are strong in the south. Do we have someone that can maybe branch out a little bit, which we need somebody that is obviously going to be a good perimeter coach, and help our players get better. Because player development cannot be ignored. I think that’s critical. And somebody obviously with experience enough to help us on the bench would be an added bonus also.”
Georgia will play Kansas State in the Big 12-SEC Invitational, it was announced last week. The two teams have met a couple times in the past few years. The entire non-conference schedule should be released soon, according to Fox, with most contracts pretty much done.
Fox didn’t specify any other games, but it obviously includes Georgia Tech, which visits Athens this year. There are also road games at Marquette and UMass, along with a home game against Oakland (Mich.)
The schedule is expected to be similar to last year and basically every other year under Fox, when the Bulldogs have scheduled strategically in order to have good numbers for the NCAA tournament.
“Playing tough non-conference schedules has allowed us to be prepared for SEC play, and that’s important,” Fox said.