Feb. 4, 2010
By Matt Winter
GoHuskies.com contributing writer
Seattle - At eight years old, Matthew Bryan-Amaning told his mom that he wanted to come play basketball in America when he finished secondary school at age 16. Fast-forward 13 years and Matthew's dream has come true--almost 5,000 miles from his home.
Although MBA (as he's known around the UW program) doesn't remember that particular statement he made to his mom all those years back, his actions speak for themselves. Growing up in South London, most kid's sports dreams were filled with kicking balls, not bouncing them. However, you don't see too many 6'9" guys with 7'4" wingspans on the soccer field. It was because of his family that he got his early start with basketball.
"I was about four or five," he says of when he started playing, "I got into it because my brother was playing. It wasn't really a choice, my parents sort of made me after my brother was into it." Jake Bryan-Amaning, eight years older than Matthew, played through secondary school but never after.
Understand that basketball in the United Kingdom is not like basketball in the United States. It is nowhere near as widespread or popular with kids. However, MBA grew up watching and idolizing Michael Jordan, not David Beckham. Much of his inspiration sparked from fellow South London native Luol Deng's success at Duke and now in the NBA.
"[Basketball] is big if you're in the basketball community, but outside it's not very well known," says Amaning. "It is the fastest growing sport in the UK, though."
Basketball started getting big for MBA at around 11 or 12 when the local and national competitions started. At 12, he was invited to play for the 14-and-under national team, his first big experience as a basketball player. It was the first time he made a national team and spent his summer traveling all over Europe.
When he wasn't playing for the national team in the summers, MBA held down the post for the Brixton TopCats, his local club team. One of his fondest memories was the Rough `n Dirty exhibition tournament held in Brixton.
"There's a U-19 [19 and under] and a U-23 [23 and under]," Bryan-Amaning describes, "and usually the best players from the UK come through. Lots of guys that have played in it before come back and watch." At 15, MBA became one of the youngest players in the tournament.
When British secondary school ended at 16, Bryan-Amaning got his chance to come to America and play. His mom, never forgetting what he told her at eight years old, pushed him every step of the way.
"From that age, my mom knew I always wanted to do it so she took it serious," he says. "She was my support."
That hard work and support started paying off for Matthew in the recruiting process. When MBA was 15, then-Connecticut assistant coach Clyde Vaughn came to see him play.
"He said I had potential," MBA remembers. "He was setting me up to go to prep school in Connecticut, and put me in contact with South Kent."
The South Kent School, then coached by current-UW assistant Raphael Chillious, was a perfect fit for Matthew. Coach Romar ventured out to the prep school during Amaning's second year to recruit Gilbert Brown, now at Pittsburgh. After seeing MBA play, Romar had a chat with his future assistant about the big kid from London.
"Coach Chill said my recruiting was wide open," MBA remembers. "He said geography wasn't a problem because I was so far away from home already." After three years at South Kent, MBA had himself a Division I scholarship.
Despite the flash and excitement of five years of American basketball, Bryan-Amaning never forgets his roots. He's excited about the growth of basketball in the UK and wants to be a big part of it.
"People are more interested and there's more support nowadays," he says of the recent growth of basketball in his home country. "NBA guys are touring Europe and putting money into it. Luol Deng made it to the NBA and has been putting money into it. Guys from the UK are seeing their players over here in the NBA and it's generating more interest.
"Everybody's driven because they want to come over here."
With the 2012 Olympics held in London, be on the lookout for British basketball and MBA making a return trip to where an 8-year-old's dream began.