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March 17, 2011Down the stretch, the Washington Huskies have been carried by guard Isaiah Thomas, but most of the season, he was only half of the most dynamic big-small combination in the Pacific-10 Conference.
Senior forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning has been Washington's go-to guy on the inside. He averaged 15.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game, was named to the All-Pac-10 first team, and was voted the most improved player in the conference.
Bryan-Amaning was the Huskies' only consistent inside presence, but it is his final year, and his departure will leave a glaring front-court gap for Washington.
It isn't the first time Washington has lost one of its premier inside players without having a clear cut replacement waiting in the wings.
Two seasons ago, the Huskies had then senior Jon Brockman[/b] to control the paint. When he left, there were questions of who would replace his presence down low.
Washington coach [db]Lorenzo Romar had a simple answer.
"You don't replace Jon," Romar said, "Somebody else steps up and does what he does."
That someone turned out to be Bryan-Amaning, a player who at the time didn't look like he would be ready.
He averaged just five points and 4.5 rebounds per game in his first two years as a Husky, so when Brockman left, it appeared the Huskies would struggle down low.
That hasn't been the case as the 6-foot-9, 240-pound Bryan-Amaning has steadily improved and has filled the void that was left by Brockman.
"It's been huge," Romar said. "They go about their business in a different way, but it's really helped us the way Matthew has stepped in."
Now that he is graduating, the Huskies are actively searching for someone to replace his productivity inside.
The future looked bright for a while when Angelo Chol considered signing with the Huskies. But the 6-8 forward from San Diego, Calif. decided to go to the University of Arizona instead of Washington. It was the second time in two years that the Huskies lost out on a high-profile forward prospect after the Terrence Jones fiasco last year.
The decision by Chol further continues the Huskies' recent troubles recruiting a big time power forwards. Their last highly-rated power forward was in their 2008 class when Tyreese Breshers chose Washington.
Romar said that he isn't sure where the productivity will come from next season, but he knows that it will be there.
"I don't know, but it's going to be somebody," Romar said.
The most likely candidates to fill in are guys who have already gained some experience with the Huskies.
Seven foot sophomore Aziz N'Diaye looks like the best answer based on his size, but this season he has struggled in several areas.
N'Diaye has had problems guarding more athletic players and is best suited when the Huskies are playing zone defense. The Huskies have played some zone this season, but they are a mostly man defense team.
N'Diaye is a decent rebounder, but has some development left to do in order to learn how to best use his size.
N'Diaye has also struggled on the offensive side of the ball, averaging just 4.6 points per game. He likely will be playing much more next season, but Washington will need someone by his side to make up for his lack of offensive skill.
Junior Darnell Gant is another option for Romar to use in Bryan-Amaning's place. He has the experience and size to defend inside, but offensively is more of a perimeter player.
This season he has developed a 3-point shot, which has been huge for the Huskies, but doesn't answer the question of replacing the inside productivity.
The junior appears to lack the toughness that is needed to play inside. He has been the unsung hero for the Huskies this season, but he will need to take major strides if he is going to take over the role as the Huskies' inside scorer.
Redshirt freshman Desmond Simmons will likely have an opportunity to earn playing time next season.
Simmons is a 6-7 forward from Vallejo Calif., who had knee surgery before joining the Huskies in his first year. This caused him to redshirt his freshman year, but assuming he is healthy to start the 2011-2012 season, Simmons could be a key contributor.
His junior year of high school he averaged 18.2 points and 14.2 rebounds per game and was named the All-East Bay player of the year in both his junior and senior years.
Simmons has been compared to Gant in the past, but is considered to be a tougher player inside who can get rebounds in a crowd. If he is able to rehab his knee back to 100 percent, he will be a player to watch for the Huskies.
The Huskies do have one signed high school recruit who could play a role in his first year: 6-10 Jernard Jarreau from New Orleans is an intriguing player coming to Washington.
While Jarreau is a taller player, the post game is not where he is best suited. Jarreau generally scores his baskets off the dribble, including pull-up jump shots, spot-up 3's or driving into the lane. These skills will help the Huskies, but it doesn't fill the hole left in the paint.
There is one last option the Huskies may have next season unless something very unexpected occurs. Kevin Davis is a 6-9, 220-pound forward who is expected to transfer to Washington next season from Tacoma Community College.
Davis was a star player at Todd Beamer High school in Federal Way, where he averaged 21.3 points, 15.3 rebounds and 6.6 blocks per game. He has done a little less in college, but if he can improve his post-play, he could step into Bryan-Amaning's void.
While there are question marks surrounding each of these players, Romar said that he doesn't expect the replacement to be the same as Bryan-Amaning.
"They may not do it like Matthew," Romar said. "Someone may do it just in another way. They bring something else to the table."
The Huskies will have an astounding backcourt thanks to some huge recruits, but without someone to balance them inside, Washington could become one-dimensional and very beatable.
"We need someone to step up and be able to do some of the things he's done," Romar said.
The Huskies may be without any sort of replacement for Bryan-Amaning next season.
If that is the case, Romar believes the team may be just fine.
"Collectively we will replace what the productivity is," Romar said. "It may come from wings. A guy like Terrence Ross may average six or seven rebounds per game next year. By committee, we'll find a way to replace it."
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