Nov. 15, 2010
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - In the dead of last winter, Matthew Bryan-Amaning found new life.
Last January, Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar watched his 6-foot-9 junior almost disappear over a span of 10 games. His production was sinking far below his potential. He was averaging just 5.9 points and 1.3 rebounds per night. He had way more fouls (33) than rebounds (13) in that span, and had scored in double figures just four times in 22 games all season.
Then he had "a talk."
"Myself and Romar had a talk one on one about a lot of things - not just basketball. And since that day, I've just been real determined," Bryan-Amaning said before 17th-ranked Washington (1-0) held its final practice prior to Tuesday night's home game against Eastern Washington (0-1).
"Coach wants me to play with a lot of intensity. ... He said I stopped (doing) that last year."
For example, when the usually demonstrative Bryan-Amaning dunked he was showing little emotion.
That came back when his game did, in February. He's been roaring ever since.
He scored a career-high 28 points and had 13 rebounds - two short of another career best - in just 23 minutes of Saturday's opening thrashing of McNeese State. He screamed to punctuate a wind-milling, right-handed slam early in that game. Everyone else's jaws dropped when he sprinted on a break and threw down a reverse dunk later.
Bryan-Amaning spent the summer gaining more confidence while playing for his native Great Britain against NBA veterans in world championship qualifiers. And he is playing the best basketball of his career entering this game against an EWU team Washington has beaten 10 times in 11 meetings since 1990.
Fox Sports Northwest has the telecast from Hec Edmundson Pavilion beginning at 7 p.m. The Washington ISP Sports Network has the live radio broadcast and GoHuskies.com has a live in-game chat, Gametracker and stories immediately after the game.
Romar won't take credit for turning around Bryan-Amaning, saying only "I have an idea" why he is rolling.
"It's just funny how when kids get older, they getting better somehow and they mature," he said.
After the coach and player had their winter talk, "MBA" averaged 12.3 points and 7.7 rebounds over the final 11 games of the regular season. He had reached double figures in scoring just once and not had more than seven rebounds in any of the 11 games immediately before the chat and re-direction.
Washington went 9-2 in those games, rising from midseason mediocrity to the Pac-10 tournament title and another berth in the NCAA tournament.
Bryan-Amaning kept rising in the postseason. His 15 points, nine rebounds and two blocks dominated New Mexico inside in the Huskies' second-round rout of the Lobos in the NCAAs.
"He's very smart on defense. He anticipates well. He's like a linebacker back there," Romar said.
He's got Mason Foster-like value to these hardwood Huskies now. How valuable had Bryan-Amaning become behind leader Quincy Pondexter last spring? When Bryan-Amaning scored just four points in the third round of last spring's NCAAs against West Virginia, Washington's season ended with a 12-point loss.
Romar says Bryan-Amaning's already good footwork has gotten "more efficient" inside. And those wowing dunks on Saturday that brought the loudest roars of the afternoon from Huskies fans? Romar sees those as an example of how well Bryan-Amaning runs for a man 6-9 with bulk.
"It started at the end of last year, running the floor," the coach said. "He gets dunks on the end of the fast break where he is ahead of the guards. Not a lot of big guys can do that. He's really kind of found a niche that way and our guys look for him."
Bryan-Amaning grew up in London before enrolling at South Kent prep school in Connecticut when current Huskies assistant Raphael Chillious was the coach there. He said all he knew of Washington then was that it rained a lot there. Then, as he put it, the Huskies "blew up kind of fast" under Romar with the first of their three recent appearances in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, in 2005.
Bryan-Amaning won't get to play Tuesday night against his good friend, Glen Dean. Eastern Washington's point guard from Roosevelt High School in Seattle, who averaged 12 points and four assists per game last season for the Eagles, is out with a stress fracture in his foot.
Eastern lost its opener on Friday to San Jose State 67-60, when former Husky Adrian Oliver doomed the Eagles with 34 points. EWU lost both of its exhibition games early this month, to Seattle Pacific and Montana State-Billings.
Yet Romar says he expects a closer game for his Huskies than the 118-64 rout of McNeese State because of the Eagles' athleticism.
He also thinks this veteran Washington team is too experienced to allow itself to look past Eastern and ahead prematurely to the loaded Maui Invitational. The Huskies leave for that on Saturday, and play Virginia there next Monday.
Bryan-Amaning says it won't be hard for him to focus on EWU. Then again, focus hasn't been an issue for him in the last 10 months.