So, reports are coming around fast and furious that maybe, just maybe, Thad Matta is going to be the next men’s basketball coach at the University of Georgia. The former Ohio St, Xavier, and Butler head man was on a long list of possibilities, but health permitting was always the top candidate on the board.
And health was a big question mark, as a botched back surgery several years ago led to ever-increasing pain and drop foot that impacted his ability to coach and to recruit. But when healthy, oh boy could this man coach and recruit.
His first head job was at Butler University (where current Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens was on his staff). They won their conference, made the NCAA Tourney, and upset Wake Forest. Wake Forest fired their coach (Dave Odom), hired Skip Prosser from Xavier, and after one year at the Bulldogs of Indianapolis, Matta was off to Cincinnatti to replace Prosser. A Musketeer for three years (where current Arizona head coach Sean Miller was among his assistants), Matta not only made the NCAAs each season but also won a game every time he danced. This includes an Elite Eight appearance in 2004 before Duke defeated them.
Matta then went a bit further north in the Buckeye state, to coach the Ohio State Buckeyes (where Sean’s brother and current Indiana head coach Archie Miller was on his staff). After spending their first season ineligible to dance due to the previous staff’s shenanigans, Matta proceeded to make the NCAA Tournament 9 of the next 10 seasons. The only non-NCAA year was spent winning the NIT, in the season after losing freshmen Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr, and Daequan Cook to the NBA draft as the first, fourth, and 21st picks respectively. Only two of the nine NCAA trips ended without a win, while there was the national runner-up finish with the “Thad Five” of Oden and friends, another Final Four appearance in 2012, an Elite Eight run in 2013, and another pair of Sweet Sixteen trips in 2010 and 2011.
Then his back issues took their toll, and the last two seasons in Columbus saw his squads fail to dance. But at just 50 years old (he turns 51 in July), a healthy Matta can work a bench for quite a while. And that’s a pretty impressive resume for a coach in their 30s and 40s. One of the better resumes UGA athletics has ever hired being honest. A resume that touches on pretty much every aspect of the game, as he’s coached big men to the pros, he’s coached guards to the pros, he’s had seniors and one and dones, he’s successfully recruited multiple players out of the Atlanta area, and built an impressive list of former assistants. He can coach players, can coach coaches, and has built a powerhouse at a large state school primarily known for football in the athletics world.
Among the players he’s put in the NBA, David West was with him at Xavier and is still on an NBA bench, Oden was a #1 pick, D’Angelo Russell and Evan Turner both went #2 overall, Conley 4th, Cook and Jared Sullinger went 21st overall, and big man Kosta Koufas 23rd, among others.
IF he’s healthy, which no one but himself, his doctors, or a crystal ball knows for sure, this could be the hire that unlocks the potential Georgia hoops fans have been speaking on for the last 10-20 years. Despite losing Yante Maten, the roster still returns a lot of options for any new coach (as Matta has yet to officially be announced, or even reported to have accepted an offer). Turtle Jackson, Teshaun Hightower, and Tyree Crump return at guard, and perhaps Jordan Harris returns on the wings to join the incoming Jojo Toppins. Rayshaun Hammonds and Nick Claxton showed a lot of promise as freshmen, and joining them in the front court are several others including rising senior and starting C Derek Ogbeide. And then there’s the question of elite PG Ashton Hagans, who has committed and de-committed from the Dawgs already, but has also said he’s still very interested in Athens. Particularly if we hired a coach who has shown the ability to get players to the NBA (see above paragraph), and may also reclassify to enroll this fall. Which would be another huge coup.
It must be said this deal could still go sour, as there’s plenty of moving parts between Matta’s health, his family, and the details of his Ohio State buyout impacting the price tag at the notoriously frugal Butts-Mehre accounting offices. But if Georgia is finally allowed to have nice things, there’s not much better than this on the table.