BY Bob Sherwin 01:57PM 02/09/2011

Bryan-Amaning’s final chapter begins this week

Legacy of the senior big man will be defined by how the Huskies recover in the seasonal stretch

Down the stretch, Washington forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning wants the fire to ignite. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest file

It’s not all about Matthew Bryan-Amaning. He’s just one player for the Washington Huskies. But how he and his team perform over the final eight regular-season games and the post-season will define his career here.

MBA, as he is known, has built a good statistical portfolio. He needs six points against Cal Thursday night to becoming the 36th Husky in history to score 1,000 points. He has had 11 double-doubles, seven this year. He scored a career-high 30 points Jan. 22 against Arizona State. He’s currently second among active Pac-10 players in career rebounds. He needs two steals to become the second player in school history to have 100 steals and 100 blocks.

The numbers are there. They’re impressive. But how he will be remembered, fair or not, is how well his team finishes. He will be judged not by stats or list, but what his team achieves. Coming off a three-game losing streak, success is uncertain.

“Every year presented a different challenge for me,” said the Huskies’ 6-foot-9, 240-pound center. “This year my role has changed, obviously, being a senior, having to lead this team.”

This year seems to be Isaiah Thomas’s team. He’s the leading scorer. He has stepped in to replace injured Abdul Gaddy at point guard to run the offense. He’s got the swagger. He’s the vocal leader. But he’s also a junior.

As a senior and the big guy underneath, Bryan-Amaning believes he carries the responsibility for the team’s fortunes. He saw what senior Quincy Pondexter did a year ago for the Huskies. That was clearly Pondexter’s team and he felt a similar responsibility. Pondexter led the team with a 19.3 average and helped the Huskies win nine in a row to finish the season before losing to West Virginia in the Sweet 16.

Two years ago, it was senior Jon Brockman’s team. He carried the Huskies with an 11.7 rebound average as the Huskies won 10 of their last 13 games, closing out with a loss to Purdue in the NCAA Tournament’s second round.

Then there’s the flip side and how the 2007 season defined center Spencer Hawes. He was a freshman, but one of the most talented big men to come through the program. He had talented underclassmen teammates Brockman, Pondexter, Venoy Overton and Justin Dentmon. Expectations were large and an extraordinary burden placed on Hawes.

That team went 8-10 in the Pac-10, losing five of its final eight to go nowhere in the post-season. Hawes set a freshman school scoring record but was done after one year, taken in the NBA draft with the 10th pick in the first round by Sacramento. Unfortunately for Hawes, his team faltered. That’s how he was defined.

Now the stage is set for MBA. After 123 games, the final chapter is most critical. The losing streak dropped the Huskies to third place in the conference and out of the top 25. Now even the post-season is cloudy. They play five of their final seven conference games at home, beginning with Cal at home Thursday and Stanford Saturday.

“I think (losing is) eye-opening for the guys who haven’t been there,” he said. “It’s a place where the upperclassmen have been in before. We’ve got the right personnel to know how to take this.

“Like last year, we came with a fire at the end of the year, thinking, ‘If we lose this game, we’re not making the tournament. If we lose the next game, we’re not making the tournament.’ I think that kind of motivated us throughout the end of last year and has the possibility of doing that again this year.”

Even though the Huskies lost Saturday to Oregon (81-76), Bryan-Amaning said he saw the spark within his teammates. Whether that makes a fire will depend on how well they respond this week.

“We know what we got to do,” he said. “Nothing else really needs to be said. We have to go out there and take control.”

Nothing much is said by MBA anyway. He admits that he’s not vocal. That’s Thomas’ role. MBA is an example type. What he has noticed within himself, as a result of a triple-loss week, is that he’s become more quiet and a lot more serious. He hopes that his teammates have seen that in him as well.

Since the team started off with hard-earned wins over USC and UCLA to open conference play, a couple of negative things happened. Gaddy went down and out for the season Jan. 4 with a torn ACL. Another player was under investigation for a sexual assault of a 16-year-old, but no felony charge was brought, citing insufficient evidence. The Huskies are 5-4 since the L.A. sweep, but Bryan-Amaning doesn’t buy the theory that distractions were the root cause.

“I think everything that’s gone on has to do with stuff that’s on the court,” Bryan-Amaning said. “We’ve been playing well since Gaddy has gone down and played poorly since he’s gone down. It’s not just him. I’m not saying he wasn’t a big part of the team because he definitely was. But we can’t attribute that to our losing because we were winning without him as well.”

He said what’s going to turn this team around is what’s within.

This is the final stretch of a six-year journey in America for London-born Bryan-Amaning. He’s gone from prep school in Connecticut to a senior in Seattle, feeling responsible for the seasonal fate.

This is the guy the Husky coaching staff projected when they watched him at South Kent High in Connecticut. It’s payoff time.

“He’s not finished,” said assistant coach Paul Fortier, who works with the big men. “He had a lot of talent coming out of prep school. He ran so well and he had that jump hook. The biggest change was slowing him down. His feet were all over the place. Now he takes his time. When he does that, he’s pretty solid and he’s pretty tough to defend.”

He has thoughts of pro ball, either the NBA or in Europe. He knows that outcome rests on the final stretch.

“It’s been a lot of fun, a lot of growth, lot of development as a person and as a basketball player,” he said. “This team’s success only helps my success.”


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