Georgia’s Maten makes impression in home-state return

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Grand Rapids — Yante Maten was glad he got a chance to redeem himself.

The Pontiac native who was a standout at Bloomfield Hills Lahser, then became Michigan’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2014 as a senior at Bloomfield Hills High, was back in his home state on Sunday afternoon as he and his Georgia teammates were taking on Michigan State in an exhibition game at Van Andel Arena.

And this game went far better than the last time he played Michigan State and better still than his last trip home as the senior scored 33 points as the Bulldogs fell to the Spartans 80-68.

“It feels great,” Maten said. “At the beginning of the game I was real nervous. Well, excited, not nervous, I should say. I ended up making a turnover right off the bat and it was just because I was so excited to be home and playing in front of my family. Last time I had the opportunity I didn’t do too well, so I made sure that I made the best of the moment.”

Maten wasn’t talking about his freshman season in 2015 when Georgia faced Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament. He played just 13 minutes and scored two points in that game.

No, Maten was referring to last season when the Bulldogs traveled to Oakland to take on the Golden Grizzlies. Oakland got the best of Georgia on Dec. 23, 2016, and Maten did not fare well. He played 21 minutes, was 1-for-4 from the field, scored six points, turned the ball over four times and fouled out.

Needless to say, his play on Sunday was far better as his family cheered loudly from behind the Georgia bench.

“I was excited, my mom was excited and she loves to see me play because she stays up here,” Maten said. “(The cheers) meant a lot. It shows I still have a fan base here. They love me and I love them.”

They love him in Georgia, too, a place Maten said is home for him just as much as Michigan. He was voted at SEC media day as the co-preseason player of the year and he made coach Mark Fox happy when he decided to return for his senior season.

“If he’s not the best young man on our campus, he’s tied for first,” Fox said. “He’s a terrific young man — that’s a credit to his mom and to his family. He’s meant a lot to our program. I can’t state enough, just the example that he is. When your best player is your hardest worker and your best person, you’ve got a chance to have a pretty good team I think and he is that for us.”

Michigan State recruited Maten late in the process, though by then Maten had pretty well been sold on Georgia.

It was difficult to envision then the player Maten would become, but Michigan State coach Tom Izzo loves everything about the 6-foot-8 forward.

“I should be fired for letting him get out of this state,” Izzo joked. “He seems like a great kid. I just love the way he plays. He doesn’t say nothing to anybody. My kind of guy, too. He’s just physical, doesn’t complain. … I watched him a lot last year, special guy then. Some thought he was going to leave early. In my humble opinion he shouldn’t have and he didn’t. He’s bounced back.

“When you can be that big and strong and still shoot 90 percent from the line … Yeah that’s a good team.”