ATHENS — If you paid any attention to Georgia basketball and Yante Maten at all last year, you’ll note that he looks a lot different this season. And that goes beyond his much stouter stat line.
The sophomore power forward from Pontiac, Mich., set out to remake his body before the Bulldogs entered into the 2015-16 season. And while he weighs virtually the same he did this time a year ago — there is 240 pounds on his 6-foot-8 body — it’s not in all the same places.
“He just redistributed it,” said Georgia coach Mark Fox. “He’s done what all of us as we age would hope to do. He’s redistributed his weight. … He’s certainly shaped up really well.”
And it shows on the basketball court. As the Bulldogs (4-3) prepare for Saturday’s noon tipoff against archrival Georgia Tech (7-2), Maten leads the team in scoring (16.9 ppg) and rebounding (8.6 pg). And his productivity is tracking decidedly upward.
Maten has posted career-high scoring efforts in four of Georgia’s seven games this season. He has gone from 13 to 17 to 21 (twice) and now 24. Maten had 24 points and 12 rebounds in the Bulldogs’ last outing, a 74-64 win over Winthrop.
That’s a far cry from where Maten was last season. As a backup to forwards Marcus Thornton and Nemi Djurisic, he averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in 18 minutes a game.
While some of that certainly has to be owed to Maten’s elite basketball skills, it also has much to do with his dedication to strength and conditioning.
“I definitely can (tell a difference),” Maten said this week. “I don’t really get tired for the most part, not as much as I used to. As I freshman I was getting pretty winded.”
Maten came to Georgia highly regarded. The 2014 Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Michigan averaged 19.8 points and 15.2 rebounds for Bloomfield Hills and was all-classification, all-state.
But he realized even while playing a reserve role last season that he would need to be in much better shape if he was going to succeed as a full-time starter.
“Coming in after Nemi and Marcus, I often got tired quickly, way more tired than I usually did compared to high school,” said Maten, who is averaging a team-high 31.3 minutes per game. “I wasn’t sure what that was from, but I just decided during the summer offseason I’d get my body into shape where I’d be able to play bigger amounts of minutes without getting tired. So that’s what I tried to do.”
Maten has won most of his individual matchups up to date. But he’ll be put to the ultimate test on Saturday when he goes up against Georgia Tech’s Charles Mitchell. The 6-foot-8, 256-pound senior from Marietta comes to Stegeman Coliseum averaging 14.2 points and 12.8 rebounds per game and has recorded a double-double in every contest the Yellow Jackets have played this season.
What’s more, Tech has another formidable physical force in the post in Alabama transfer Nick Jacobs, who is 6-8, 262, and averages 10.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.
“Both of those guys are having really good years,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said of Maten and Mitchell. I don’t think Yante has played nearly, well, I think there’s another level for him to get to, quite frankly. But he has been productive, as has their player, Charles. So that’s certainly something people probably should talk about.”
Said Maten of Mitchell: “He’ a great player, a good finisher. There’s many things you can say about him and compliment him, but he’s just an outstanding player. I think we’re both really capable players, all credit to him. It’ll probably come down to who wants it more, game’s like this. It’s mostly all about heart and who can lock in the fastest in the game.”
The teams match up extremely well in the front court and the backcourt. But if Tech has an edge anywhere it is probably in low-post depth and rebounding. The Jackets are averaging more than 43 rebounds, or nearly five more a game than the Bulldogs.
But Georgia is extremely confident and Maten. Increasingly, the Bulldogs are running their entire offense through him. And Maten keeps responding accordingly.
“He’s definitely stepped up in the areas that we need, which is scoring and rebounding,” said teammate Kenny Gaines. “He’s been a dominant threat in the low post, which has been great because he draws so much attention it opens up things in other areas of the court. It’s been great he’s been so productive. He was just so determined this summer to player faster, quicker, but not lose the strength he had. He’s done a wonderful job of that.”
Said Fox: “Playing a bigger role, his instincts within the system, I think they’ll improve just the more he plays and the more experience he gets. Then I think it’ll be even easier for him to be productive once he gets a more instinctive feel to the system.”