What makes Malury Bates a viable option in the Lady Bulldogs’ frontcourt?

Bates, a redshirt junior who has battled injuries, has potential to be a legitimate piece of Georgia’s frontcourt.

Georgia forward Malury Bates (22) during the Bulldogs’ practice session at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2020. (Photo by Tony Walsh)

ATHENS, Ga. — On a random afternoon last offseason (pre-Covid, 2019), I moseyed through the Stegeman Coliseum Training Facility to pick up something I left behind a few days prior — probably … honestly, who knows, that feels like decades ago.

Point being, I found Georgia forward Malury Bates walking into the practice gym. No coaches could assist, per NCAA rules and the 20-hour-per-week hour allotment, but Bates wanted to get some conditioning in while recovering from a torn ACL.

Bates went about her business quietly. That’s how she’s gone about it through her first three years as a now-redshirt junior. She hasn’t had a breakout stretch of games, and there have been some setbacks — namely the devastating knee injury suffered after playing five minutes on Nov. 28, 2018 against Mercer.

There has been production in spurts, but it hasn’t yet drawn attention to the outside eye. She averaged 2.7 points and 2.3 rebounds a season ago.

Bates’ outlook could change in 2020.

Entering this season, she could emerge as a viable option for the Lady Bulldogs’ frontcourt. There were four stars and plenty of potential next to Bates’ name, after all, when signing with Georgia in 2017 out of Roanoke, Va. She’s a presence at 6-foot-3 and has made strides in practice ahead of the upcoming season.

Oddly enough, Bates’ run could begin against Mercer — against the same team her injury happened against — as Georgia opens the season in Macon on Nov. 25 at 6 p.m.

“She’s in great shape,” head coach Joni Taylor said as practice began in mid-October. “She has been running with the guards and is really comfortable.”

Georgia’s frontcourt has open minutes with a guard-heavy roster. It made a transaction of sorts when Stephanie Paul, a starter, graduated and the Lady Bulldogs signed Zoesha Smith (6-foot-1) to fill the roster void. Bates has competed with Smith, Jenna Staiti, Javyn Nicholson and Jordan Isaacs for an increased role in the team’s playing rotation.

Sophomore Maori Davenport, the transfer from Rutgers, will not play this season. Georgia opted to not apply for an immediate eligibility waiver and allow Davenport to improve on the practice court.

The workhorse of the group has become evident. We can safely assume that Staiti has put herself in a position to earn a bulk of the frontcourt minutes at the five/center. Staiti played over 30 minutes and scored more than 15 points in nine-consecutive games (with plenty of double-doubles mixed in, too).

The opening comes alongside Staiti at the four. Bates showed a flash in the 2018-19 season, right before getting hurt. She played a career-high 28 minutes while recording eight points and eight rebounds. That performance followed five blocks against Winthrop. The progress was evident, Bates looked ready.

Then, the uncontrollable injury happened and forced a reboot. Bates couldn’t find a consistent spot last season. She played less than seven minutes in eight of the last 10 SEC games and never saw more than 20 minutes on the season. Staiti, Isaacs and Paul had taken those minutes, leaving Bates near the bottom of the rotation.

A year later, Georgia has a consistent opportunity for Bates. Her agility will help as the Lady Bulldogs plan to run an ultra-fast offense, and some developments from Bates have drawn praise.

“She has really perfected the turnaround jumper,” Taylor said. “If she elevates, there’s nobody who can really block her shot. If you jump and you jump , she’s going to win. She’s honed in on one or two moves that are really good for her and she’s using them.”

Taylor observed that Bates is at her best when finding position on the block. It gives Georgia more offensive possibilities as Bates can shoot and collect offensive rebounds for second-chance points. The struggle, however, is beating her opponent in order to get position and “not be pushed off.” It’s a logical and probably common concern for post players.

Bates offers a lot that Georgia favors ahead of her third season. She possesses confidence in her repaired knee with the hopes of playing 25 games of basketball.

There’s potential for Bates to realize. She’s shown it in flashes. If it can become consistent, Bates could emerge as a viable option in the Lady Bulldogs’ frontcourt.

“She’s always someone who can play with contact,” Taylor said. “That’s going to give us a physical presence.”