There is a lot that is unusual about Yante Maten. You can start with his first name.
If you’re like most people, you’ve probably never met a “Yante” before. That’s because Maten’s mother made up the name out of thin air.
“My dad’s name is Bryant and my mom’s name is Toya,” said Maten, a freshman forward on the Georgia basketball team. “My mom just found the common letters between Bryant and Toya, they’re y-a-n-t and she just added the “e”. That’s how I got my name.”
Only by his mother’s grace is he not “Yanto.” And we didn’t ask about those two middle names, Khaaliq and Daiyaan.
Here’s another odd thing about Maten. He’s a Gatorade Player of the Year from Detroit who chose to shun his choice of Big Ten schools to come south to play basketball.
For Georgia, no less.
Much to the chagrin of Michigan State in particular, the 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward from Pontiac, Mich., felt the need to get away from the Midwest to do something different and to make a difference. And for that the Bulldogs were a major attraction.
“I felt like I could really help the program here,” Maten said. “Me and my mom, we’re from a strong Christian home and we prayed about it for a very long time and just felt like God was telling me to come here. They had the education here that I wanted and just the basketball program here behind (Georgia) coach (Mark) Fox appealed to me. So everything just seemed to point us here and it felt real.”
For that, the Bulldogs feel very blessed. They return most of the team that was 20-14 last season and finished second in the SEC. But the one thing they were missing was a big man who could score consistently in the paint.
The thinking is that Maten might be able to remedy that situation, and his resume would support that hypothesis.
Maten averaged 19.8 points, 15.2 rebounds, 6.6 blocks and 4.8 assists and shot 66 percent from the field as a senior at Bloomfield Hills High. With Maten manning the blocks, the Black Hawks went 24-4 and reached the Michigan Class A state championship game. Both Indiana’s Tom Crean and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo were looking on when Maten scored 25 points and had 18 rebounds and four blocks in a semifinals victory.
Fox and assistant Jonas Hayes — who led Maten’s recruitment — also were on hand that cold day in Detroit. Fox laughs at the memory of it because Hayes double-parked as they pulled up late to get into the standing-room-only game. They came out to find their rental car ticketed.
That’s one fine they didn’t mind paying as Maten committed to the Bulldogs two weeks later. To the shock and dismay of many locals, Maten signed his letter-of-intent with UGA in a ceremony at his high school April 16.
“A lot of my friends went to Michigan and Michigan State and Indiana and those schools,” Maten said. “People who didn’t really know me really questioned it. But people who knew me knew I wouldn’t go somewhere that wasn’t beneficial for me.”
Fox, for one, didn’t see Maten’s acquisition as the regional conquest that a lot of others do. The Georgia brand, he said, extends well beyond the Deep South, even in basketball.
“In Detroit, it helped that the starting quarterback for the Lions went to the University of Georgia,” Fox said, referring to Matthew Stafford. “And it helped that the lottery pick that year for the Pistons was the University of Georgia (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope). So I don’t think we went in as total strangers.”
With the wooing phase over, hard work long since has commenced. Maten not only is adjusting to playing among bigger, stronger players, but he’s doing so under the extra weight of expectation.
One week before taking the floor for the Bulldogs’ first exhibition game, Thursday against Georgia Southwestern, reports are encouraging.
“He’s made a pretty easy transition in every area,” Fox said. “Right now he’s still learning what he’s doing. But you see flashes where you’re like, ‘Wow, that play was easy for him.’ I think we’re getting close to seeing more of that. I think he’ll play significant minutes. I think that’s something we can project.”