Photo credit: Seattle Times – Dean Rutz
Before sititng down with Matthew Bryan-Amaning (above) for an interview last week, I watched him after an open run session win a three-point contest that included Scott Suggs and Antoine Hosley.
Following his impressive victory, Bryan-Amaning was trumped by shoeless Isaiah Thomas who beat the trio and Justin Holiday while participating in his socks and often sliding across the smooth gym floor. Amazing.
After almost everyone filed out of the auxiliary gym at Hec Ed, it was also interesting to watch Bryan-Amaning work with newcomer Aziz N’Diaye and show the 7-footer a drop step move beneath the rim. Bryan-Amaning said he was teaching N’Diaye the same move Jon Brockman taught him years ago.
During our discussion, we talked about the possibilities of Bryan-Amaning playing in a lineup with N’Diaye. Bryan-Amaning said Darnell Gant has surprised him more than anyone else and he said losing Tyreese Breshers hasn’t altered his approach.
It’s another lengthy interview, so I’ll break it up and post the second part later today.
(Can you play with Aziz?)
“Oh yeah. Definitely.”
(Why do you say that?) “Just working really hard. Had a long summer. I was playing some on the perimeter. When I was in practice when I was with the British team, they had me playing the 4-3. Everyday I was guarding Pops (Mensah-Bonsu) and guarding Luol (Deng). Just trying to move my feet and play defense on the perimeter. I just worked really hard it it.”
(Since you’ve been back, how many times have you played with Aziz?) “We play basically every day.”
(What have you learned about you guys on the court?) “Well, the majority of the times we’ve been going against each other just because of personnel. But with his size and his presence on the defensive end, it makes it a lot easier for a lot of other guys. Like the guards, they don’t have to worry. They can pressure up as much as they can. If myself and him are both playing, we have the ability to block shots and protect the rim. But pretty much in my mind, I got to be able to guard perimeter guys. That’s what I’m trying to do. Coach is helping to guard 4-men. Guys like Jamelle Horne, (Richards) Kuksiks. That’s what we’ve been working on. When I haven’t been in the games against him, I’ve been trying to guard Darnell, Justin (Holiday) and Scott (Suggs) just to be able to slide my feet a lot better. Then offensively, he’s (Aziz) is going to be a load down there. With our system, he’ll be able to get a lot of drop steps and a lot of looks at the bucket. I’ve been working on my shot this summer and hopefully that will pay off.”
(Do you think you’ll still have the room to operate in the paint if you have a 7-footer on the floor?) “Yeah definitely. The system hasn’t changed. Just like when Jon (Brockman) was here, Jon was the go-to guy, but I didn’t take away from him being able to get his points in the post. We have ways to create space and if teams want to double team, who else would I want to pass to then somebody who’s going to have an easy dunk?”
(Who has surprised you the most?) “A lot of guys really. Darnell I guess. I haven’t been here the last three months, so maybe Darnell. He’s always been able to shoot it, but he’s extended it to the three now. He’s been knocking down a lot of shots in open gym. And Justin. It’s all about confidence with Justin. I pretty much knew from playing with him and coming in with him as freshmen, he could always shoot the ball. It’s just being able to have the confidence and believing in himself and coach believing in him that he can do it. Now he’s starting to get that freedom obviously and he’s being able to show people that he can do it. And Isaiah (Thomas) is just coming with a different mentality.”
(How so?) “It’s just eyes on the prize with him. We’re always talking. When I went away this summer, we talked. He’s always talking about doing what you got to do to be successful for ourselves and for the program. He’s coming with that mentality. He knows the system. He’s a smart player. Even in open gym, he still passes the ball early. He knows when to take over. He’s just becoming more of a smart player and reading the game a lot better.”
(You talked about Darnell and his shot, but it looks like you’ve extended your range as well.) “Right now my goal is making 500 a day.”
(Five hundred what?) “Mid-range shots and about 100-150 foul shots. Obviously once you get to where you can hit 18-16 footers, the three-point line is not that far away. I’m not there yet, but I’m going to be shooting 3s. I’m not going to say if the opportunity is there I won’t shoot it. Whatever happens in a game happens. But I don’t know. I’m getting real confident in the last week or so and the ball has just been going in. Isaiah has been harping on everybody to stop jumping every time I (give) a shot fake, but it’s another way to open up your game. If you shoot it well enough, they have to respect me.”
(Did you go into the summer looking to improve your perimeter shot?) “Yeah I knew it from before to be honest. Obviously with the makeup of the team last year, they needed me in the post. I shot jumpers when I was in high school so (Lorenzo) Romar knew that about me, but they needed me to be in the post. And we were successful that way. So it’s like don’t try to fix something that’s already working. And now obviously playing with Aziz and I was thinking about Tyreese playing inside as well and being able to rotate with us three I felt I would need to be able to help out more on the outside so I was working on that.”
(But does that take you farther away from the basket and limit your rebounding opportunities?) “Not really. In open gym right now, the best offensive rebounder is Terrence Ross. He gets tip dunks here and there and he’s playing on the perimeter 24/7. So it doesn’t really mean that. Obviously there’s Quincy (Pondexter) who was probably our best offensive rebounder last year. He was playing the four, but in our system he was on the perimeter. So it’s about your mentality.”
(Terrence Ross is freakishly athletic isn’t he?) “Yeah. That’s another guy talking about guys who really surprised me. I hadn’t seen him play obviously since I’ve been away, but he’s one of the best athletes I’ve played with and I’ve played with guys like Luol. Obviously he can shoot it. Dribbles real good. We know C.J. (Wilcox) is probably the best shooter on the team, but Terrence is right up there.”
(With Breshers leaving basketball, how does that affect you?) “To me, to be honest, it hasn’t really changed what I’ve set out to do. In my mind, I was trying to be as fit as I can to play as much minutes as I can at the highest level I can while I’m on the court whether Tyreese was going to be in the game or not. Obviously with the defense with Tyreese there, I’m pretty sure coach was trying to play me more at the four. Obviously Tyreese isn’t there so he’ll probably play me more at the five, but at the same time it doesn’t really affect everything and everything that’s going on in my mind. My focus and my goal is to play is to play the best I can.”
(Talk to me about the returning big men in the Pac-10.) “Derrick Williams at Arizona. He’s real good. Athletic young kid. He had his way I guess with most of the guys in our league. Really talented. (DeAngelo) Casto. Big guy. He’s going to block shots. Does a little bit of everything. Has his motor running. Reeves Nelson. I call him Baby Brockman because you could see it. Half way through the year, he played with his size. Giving up his body. Being aggressive. That’s just how they are. That’s their mentality. That’s the way they play. They don’t care what it takes to get it done, they’re going to get it done.”
(In that group, where do you fit in?) “I don’t know. That depends on everybody else. I don’t’ really try and evaluate myself to everybody else. I don’t really compare myself to other players. I try to maintain a high level for myself and let other people figure out things like where I rank or where anyone else ranks with each other.”