As long as Yante Maten doesn’t experience a setback, he will play against Tennessee in second round of the SEC Tournament on Thursday.
Maten met with a team doctor Tuesday night, who gave the junior big man clearance to play. Maten was able to participate in practice over the past two days before showing up to Wednesday’s shootaround and light session at Bridgestone Arena.
Sporting a brace covered up by a pair of compression leggings, Maten did every drill his teammates did.
“I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen about (Thursday) but I’m trying to take it day by day, and make sure that my knee’s all good and I’ll be able to contribute to the team to where I won’t hurt myself,” Maten said.
While Georgia only practiced against air Wednesday, head coach Mark Fox said Monday’s practice featured “controlled contact” and that Tuesday’s also dealt with contact.
Fox expressed confidence that Maten would be able to withstand contact to the knee, which sustained a Grade 2 MCL sprain in a Feb. 18 game against Kentucky. As for how many minutes Maten can play, Fox said the doctors didn’t place him on a restriction. But Maten’s playing time will have to do with how conditioned he’s in and how effective he is with his teammates.
“If there was risk, he wouldn’t be out there,” Fox said. “He met with our doc (Tuesday) night. He’s obviously got that brace on which is a little cumbersome. But that beats the alternative.”
During Wednesday’s practice in Nashville, Maten was able to pivot on the afflicted knee. Maten was also able to hop and jump-stop without an issue on the floor.
Georgia spent some time working through its sets during the hour-long light practice. Maten ran with the second group, with the starting lineup of late – J.J. Frazier, Turtle Jackson, Juwan Parker, E’Torrion Eilridge and Derek Ogbeide – running ahead of him. Fox said Wednesday’s practice groupings aren’t necessarily indicative of what starting lineup he will go with against Tennessee.
As far as how his knee feels, Maten said he’s experiencing discomfort more than pain.
Maten did admit that wearing a knee brace has slowed him down on the floor.
“It’s a little hindering. It’s not the worst thing,” Maten said. “I just have to make sure I pick up my leg. Without the brace it’s kind of slow. With the brace it’s more weight, which makes it even slower.”
Whether Maten can play major minutes or even half of a game could be big for the Bulldogs. This season, Maten is averaging 18.7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Those numbers would likely be higher if Maten’s injury against Kentucky didn’t come within the first 95 seconds of the game.
Needing some wins in the SEC Tournament to further state a case for an NCAA Tournament bid, having Maten back could be crucial to Georgia’s postseason aspirations.
Without Maten, Georgia has relied on guard J.J. Frazier to do the heavy lifting on the offensive end. Frazier has averaged 29.6 points over the previous five games. After the Kentucky loss, Georgia ended the regular season 3-1 without Maten in the lineup, logging wins over Alabama, LSU and Auburn before losing to Arkansas.
Frazier said he’s looking forward to seeing Maten back on the floor.
“It’s obviously going to be a boost,” Frazier said. “He’s arguably been our best player all year. To get him back will be great. It’s going to be a big emotional boost as well.”
After sustaining the injury against Kentucky, Maten said that instead of fearing the worst he tried to believe that the injury wasn’t as bad. He was fortunate when testing revealed no tears and no need for surgery.
Maten is ready to help his team once again and Georgia is happy to have him back – especially with a lot riding on its postseason hopes.
“It’s a great feeling that I’ll be able to come out there and help the team,” Maten said. “I’m just trying to make sure when I get out there that I’m more beneficial than awful to the team. That’s the biggest thing, that I’m going to be able to contribute.”