The Southeastern Conference Tournament made news before Mississippi State played LSU on Wednesday night in the first game of what could be termed a last-four first-round doubleheader.
Earlier in the day, Georgia’s all-league forward, Yante Maten, participated in an informal shoot-around practice in Bridgestone Arena. Maten has not played since spraining his right knee 95 seconds into a game against Kentucky on Feb. 18.
Georgia Coach Mark Fox said Maten had practiced this week and, barring an adverse reaction to the workout, would play against Tennessee in a second-round game here Thursday.
This was of interest to Kentucky, which plays the Georgia-Tennessee winner in Friday’s quarterfinals. In Georgia’s game at Kentucky on Jan. 31, Maten scored 22 points, grabbed five rebounds and got credit for five assists.
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When asked what difference Maten could make for Georgia in the SEC Tournament, guard J.J. Frazier smiled and said, “He’s averaging 19 and eight (actually 18.7 points and 6.9 rebounds). So if he can go, it’s going to make a big difference.”
Fox explained what Maten means to Georgia by recalling Georgia’s victory at Alabama on Feb. 23. After the game, Fox ordered a FaceTime phone call from the locker room to Maten, who had not made the trip.
“Because our team was totally out of sorts without him,” Fox said. “Just the climate in the room wasn’t good. . . . That was the only time he didn’t travel with us., and our team was not our team. . . .
“So having him out there (in the SEC Tournament) will certainly help our team. How effective he realistically can be, that’s a whole different story.”
Maten, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound senior, practiced with a brace on his right knee. He acknowledged that the brace was bothersome.
“It’s not the most comfortable thing: a big, metal object on your leg,” he said. “But it’s a work in progress.”
After a story on Yahoo.com said that Georgia was assessing candidates to replace Fox as coach, Athletics Director Greg McGarity issued a statement saying there would not be a coaching change.
Fox recalled getting a call from McGarity before 7 a.m. the day the story went public.
Fox said he was aware of the story at the time, but had not read it. The Georgia coach suggested the pressure to produce stories led to the mistake.
When it was suggested how the pressure to be first with something can lead to not thoroughly checking the accuracy of information, Fox said, “You do anything too quickly, you’re going to make some mistakes. I’m not being critical of anyone. Anything you do (quickly), that would happen.”
Earlier in his basketball life, Alabama Coach Avery Johnson played with Dirk Nowitzki. He later coached Nowitzki.
So Johnson was happy when Nowitzki reached 30,000 points in his NBA career on Tuesday. Only five other players have scored that many points in the NBA: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Wilt Chamberlain.
Of his reaction to Nowitzki joining that exclusive club, Johnson said, “You’re talking about a huge smile, man. Just excited.”
Johnson said he tweeted congratulations to Nowitzki and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
“He’s the hardest-working player I have ever seen in my life,” Johnson said.