Jan. 12, 2009
By Benton Strong
Basketball is so much about athleticism and natural skill, but harnessing it can be difficult, even for the best players. One thing that can always be counted on, however, is flashes of greatness from great athletes. In the early going of 2008-09, sophomore Matthew Bryan-Amaning has displayed that he may be on his way to greatness.
The 6-foot-9 sophomore from London, England turned in two career performances earlier this season, scoring 18 points in 17 minutes against Texas Southern, and dropping 23 points and 12 rebounds against Portland State, both Husky wins. In the Texas Southern game he scored 14 points in a row in the second half.
Bryan-Amaning's increased production has indicated the light switch has gone on. He has made a big jump this year after seeming lost in the college game during his first season.
"The biggest thing is that I've been able to get fully healthy," he said. "Coach [Lorenzo Romar] made the point that I showed a lot of improvement in the pre-season and I was more confident and aggressive than last year.
"Playing at such a high level sometimes got me in a position where I thought I had to do more than I had to."
You'll have to forgive him for wanting to take on that do-everything role, as he did exactly that on the Great Britain U-20 team this summer. He piled up 41 points in a game against the Czech Republic while a member of that team.
"I've played a lot for my National Team and was a go-to player," he said. "On that team I am a lot like Jon Brockman is for this team. I'm the energy guy and the first one up to give high fives or get in someone's ear."
One day, possibly next year, Bryan-Amaning may have to be that guy for the Huskies. Brockman will be gone after this season and the team appears to be in good hands with the sophomore waiting to take over the helm.
Until that day, Bryan-Amaning will continue to work to fulfill the potential that Romar saw out of him during high school. Moving across the Atlantic Ocean from London, Bryan-Amaning attended South Kent Prep in Connecticut where he was a teammate of freshman Isaiah Thomas. It was there that he developed his relationship with Romar.
"Coach Romar came out to South Kent, in the middle of nowhere, to see me," he said. "We were sitting in my coach's office just talking and basketball didn't even come up. It was good to know that I could relate to him like that.
"At the time [Washington] didn't have anyone with my skill set. They were an up-and-coming program with Brandon Roy having just graduated and I liked their style of play."
A year later, Bryan-Amaning was in purple and gold and continuing his adjustment to American life.
"When I first moved here I was often repeating myself," he said, with his voice slipping into a British accent. "No one could ever understand what I was saying, so I had to fix that."
His ties, however, are still strong in Great Britain where he will continue preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games. With his country hosting the games, Great Britain is guaranteed a spot in the field.
"Everybody wants to play for their country," he said. "It obviously is an honor to put on that jersey and to play in the Olympics."
With that said, Bryan-Amaning is a convert to UW as well, coming to appreciate Husky basketball and its fans.
"Playing in front of the Dawg Pack, the best fans in the country, is a beautiful thing," he said. "This building is so much fun to play in."
Because of Bryan-Amaning, Bank of America Arena is even more electric. The array of dunks he has unleashed this season - from a baseline-jumping reverse, to a fast-break throwdown - has ignited the home crowd on a nightly basis.
Despite suffering an ankle injury in the preseason and missing several games, Bryan-Amaning has come back strong. He displayed that he was getting better, despite not being at his best, when he went on a fast-break against Portland State. He side-stepped a defender and threw down a reverse dunk that nearly brought the house down. And even though two points is two points, Bryan-Amaning understands the effect of the flashy play.
"At home those things are so big," he said. "They get the crowd into it and they change the way teams defend you. No one wants to get dunked on, so guys will be more cautious about how they defend you. Just the presence of them changes the game. [Besides] a dunk is a high percentage shot and those are exactly what coach wants."
And lucky for Washington, the team has been good enough to have a guy like Bryan-Amaning coming off the bench. Alongside Brockman, redshirt freshman Darnell Gant has been starting at the forward position for most of the year. Bryan-Amaning usually checks in as the sixth or seventh man and immediately turns up the energy.
As the Pac-10 season gets into full-swing Bryan-Amaning will be more important than ever if the Huskies are going to get back to the NCAA Tournament. He will take pressure off of Brockman and be a threat on the other side of the block.
"Brock makes everything so much easier when he's there," Bryan-Amaning said. "He is the focal point of our team. No team is going to double-team me when he is on the court, and when they go double him, I'll be left open."
The secret may be out pretty soon: Bryan-Amaning is not far behind Brockman. On a team with eight players that are sophomores or younger, he could be the face of the next era of Washington basketball. You can bet that era will still be identified by the same characteristics of the most successful teams during Romar's tenure: strong, pressure defense and fast-paced play.
The end result of which may be another clip for Bryan-Amaning's growing highlight reel.