Dec. 17, 2010
|UW-San Francisco Game Coverage|
|TV: FSN-NW||Radio: Washington ISP Sports Network (950 AM-Seattle)|
UW-San Francisco set for 7:00 p.m. tip on Saturday
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Matthew Bryan-Amaning sprawled headfirst into a Portland defender to seize a loose ball. While still prone on the floor, the Huskies' 6-foot-9 inside force skipped a pass to Isaiah Thomas. Thomas then found teammate Scott Suggs open for the 3-point basket that repelled the Pilots' rally and ensured yet another home win for UW earlier this month.
"Coach (Lorenzo Romar) and everybody, that's one thing they harp on: The ball's loose, dive, no matter who is in there or on the floor," Bryan-Amaning said. "And once I dove, as soon as that happened, I was just looking for a quick outlet.
"It really changes momentum. Everybody notices -- coach Romar, the whole coaching staff.
"Made something out of nothing."
The native of London has been doing that since he was four years old.
He grew up in a country where kids don't knock on doors telling friends "Let's go play hoops."
Soccer? Sure. Rugby? Cricket? Game on. Always.
Yet Bryan-Amaning had a homemade basketball outlet. His brother Jake, eight years older than Matthew, got his younger brother into hoops before he was in kindergarten.
"My brother, I just started in his footsteps in playing when I was about four years old. I fell in love from a young age," Bryan-Amaning said, with a British accent that has faded each season he's been at UW.
Jake stayed home, got a multimedia technology degree and is putting it to use directing and producing music videos in England.
Matthew? He kept begging his mom to let him go to the United States so he could follow his love for basketball. He wanted to move when he was 10. Her compromise was 16.
During those six formative years in Britain, while everyone else followed Premier League soccer, Bryan-Amaning found a new "family" with which to watch U.S. college hoops.
"It's more like a family, the basketball system in England," he said. "Everybody who plays basketball knows everybody. Regardless of where you are in the country, you heard about guys who play, like in the north of England.
"We in the `family' know about college basketball. You would all talk about the same games, because you would have to buy a certain channel to get American sports. So you'd ask `Did you watch that game?' Once you are in the `family' you know what's going on."
When he turned 16, he went to South Kent school in rural Connecticut, the same prep school Thomas attended between Curtis High School in the Tacoma area and UW. That's where Bryan-Amaning discovered Washington.
"When I got to South Kent that was '05 and '06 when they had their back-to-back Sweet 16s and they were recruiting one of my teammates," he said of the Huskies. "And they made it known they wanted to recruit me.
"Obviously, with their successful record, it was something I took seriously."
When he arrived at Washington, Artem Wallace was anchored in the Huskies' low post. That left Bryan-Amaning largely anchored to the bench. He averaged made just four starts in his first two seasons at UW.
"Sophomore year everybody going into training camp - even the vets - told me preseason they thought I was going to start. Then obviously I didn't. I was behind Artem, when he was a junior and senior, and it kind of got to me.
"And then I went into the starting lineup and got taken back out, sophomore year. I thought I had done enough, even though I'd gotten hurt early, I thought I had done enough to be starting. But it wasn't meant to be."
Inconsistency clouded his enormous potential again last year. In the dead of last winter, Romar watched Bryan-Amaning almost disappear over a span of 10 games. 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.
He found himself back on the bench.
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," said Bryan-Amaning.
"Coach wants me to play with a lot of intensity. ... He said I stopped (doing) that last year."
He returned after the "talk," for which Romar won't take credit, and 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 final games, rising from midseason mediocrity to the Pac-10 tournament title and another berth in the NCAA tournament. His parents loved that. They were watching online from their new home in Accra, Ghana. His grandmother recently passed away and left her home there to his parents as a place to which they have retired.
They saw their son continue to rise 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.
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.
His confidence soared this summer when he trained every day on Great Britain's national team with Luol Dang of the Chicago Bulls and Pops Mensah-Bonsu of the New Orleans Hornets. Though he didn't play much behind the NBA stars in international games, the work he got in practice and in scrimmages was invaluable.
"Every day, two a days, guarding those guys, having to play offense against those caliber guys, it's a lot," he said. "Obviously I didn't play much in the official games. I played a lot in the test games early, playing with those guys, keeping me focused. Just being able to be within the game if I am not in the game."
That's come in handy lately.
He seemed poised for a breakout season as one of Washington's three seniors, and played that way in the opener with a career-high 28 points with 13 rebounds against McNeese State.
Then new 7-foot center Aziz N'Diaye wowed Romar with his ability to dominate games inside at the loaded Maui Invitational late last month. When the Huskies returned home, Romar rewarded the sophomore junior-college transfer with his first starts - at Bryan-Amaning's expense.
"I mean, he may want to catch me outside in the dark when I'm not looking with a bat in my hand," the coach joked. "But he's not shown it."
Indeed, as his floor-burn play -- plus 15 points off the bench -- against Portland Dec. 6 showed, Bryan-Amaning isn't letting his latest change faze him.
Romar says Bryan-Amaning didn't handle the changed role so well early in his career.
"He couldn't. You can't make improvement until you realize there's a problem," the coach said, adding Bryan-Amaning will likely be back in the starting lineup soon.
Until then, this is another chance to prove he is mentally stronger.
Making something out of nothing.
"Yeah, you just have to understand that regardless what goes on it doesn't revolve around you," Bryan-Amaning said. "It's like when I was back at home in London on the team I'd been on since I was four or five years old, and it goes on. And after my senior year, this team is going to keep going on and be successful, regardless of whether I am here or not."
Bryan-Amaning says Great Britain's national team coach Chris Finch has an eye on him to compete in the 2012 Olympics that London will be hosting - though England doesn't yet know if the international basketball federation will include it in the next Olympics.
"Definitely, it's a goal of mine to represent my country in the Olympics," Bryan-Amaning said. "Coach keeps on telling me I am the type of player that they want, the type of athlete they want. They want a faster pace, more of an American style of basketball with long-limbed athletes that can guard and play more positions."
As his life and his UW career show, he can already deal with different roles.
And with making something out of nothing.