Tokyo Time has teamed up with Swish productions and respected sports journalist Mo Stewart, to bring you an exclusive interview with London City Royals Matthew Bryan Amaning ahead of the Play-Off Finals on Sunday the 19th May.
Few players have a better grasp of the global appeal of Basketball than Matthew Bryan Amaning. The man they call MBA has been there, done it and bought the phrasebook in a career that began with moving to the States as a teenager to play in High School and then College.
Having won titles all around the world, there was a fire inside the versatile centre to return home. At the London City Royals he's been able to play in front of friends and family in the same area he grew up while inspiring the next generation to hopefully be able to do the same. What better way to do it than to win the biggest prize in the game – the BBL Playoffs.
Swish: Big congratulations on making the BBL Playoff final in your first season as a team. Have you had a chance to reflect as a team and celebrate that achievement or has been full focus on Leicester to go on and do the job?
MBA: The guys are obviously happy and excited. We set some lofty goals at the beginning of the season but as of right now, the guys are just focused. We had a light but good practice yesterday and I think we are gonna get after it again today in practice and keep our flow going. Everyone seems very focused. We have guys that have played all over the world as well, so they know what to expect and know what it takes and will be in the zone for the next week or so.
Swish: You guys do have an experienced locker room, with players having played all around the world. Have you sensed that difference now that we've got to crunch time? It was an extremely close race towards in the regular season, only securing your spot with a few games to go, but does it feel like now you're in playoffs mode?
MBA: We were quietly confident; everybody was in the mix for the playoffs, and everyone was talking about which teams were in there. It took us a while to officially qualify - I think 4 through 10 were up for grabs until the last weekend of the championships. As a team and with the talent that we have we knew if we were in it, we would have a chance to win it; I think there was only one team we didn’t beat in the regular season so we knew we could beat everybody in the rest of the league.
For us, it was more about focusing on what we needed to do. We peaked early in our run to the Trophy finals and then after winning the Trophy, we had a bit of slippage, but we picked it back up and we are peaking again at the right time. Everything has gone our way, not just from the basketball gods but from our own talent and our own hard work. That has shown that we are doing things the right way right now, and hopefully, it carries through to Sunday.
Swish: The first time I saw you play I called you the one man highlights reel, because that day in Glasgow, you were doing everything – post-ups, dunks, steals, dimes, big blocks, running conversations with the crowd....every time the volume raised, either in the stands or on the court, it's a fair bet you had something to do with it. Have you always played with that all-action style, or is it more a case of adding parts to your game throughout your career?
MBA: Anyone who knows me, would know that I play with my emotions on my sleeve. People either tend to love it or hate it, referees as well…..! It’s an emotional sport, it's not one of those sports that slows down or is lowkey, there are always emotions running high and if you play with your emotions it can be used to your advantage and that's how I am. I like to get involved with my teammates, I like to get involved in speaking and talking to referees, getting the crowd involved and also even on the other side, talking to my opponents, trying to get in their heads and throw them off their game. When I moved over to the states to go to high school and then university I was only sixteen, but once I got over there, I found out about the game-behind-the-game, and I try to use that to my advantage.
Swish: That was very noticeable in the Trophy Final against the Lions. What has been like coming up against guys you have played with and against for a long time, but now are competing for the big prizes?
MBA: It's been fun. It was a big part of the reason I wanted to come home. I have played and won trophies and championships overseas, but doing it in front of friends and family and against people that you have known for years and years is an exciting thing. Not in a disrespectful or rude way but I have played in much higher leagues or more respected leagues across the globe, but I think this one of the biggest, most exciting games that I have been a part of just because I get to experience it and play it in front of family and friends and against players I know.
You know in The Trophy final against the Lions, I was up against Justin (Robinson) who is the godfather to my son, and other guys that I grew up playing with or against are playing for other clubs around the league. For me, it’s a great experience. To come home and being able to make it to the playoff final in my first year is huge. My parents actually live in Ghana and my mum has actually flown back to watch the finals! Its gonna be an exciting show.
Swish: Amazing! I am sure we will be able to spot her in the crowd!
MBA: Oh, definitely!
Swish: The majority of British players in the BBL are well-travelled, but you've got more passport stamps than a Pilot: Turkey, Serbia, France, Germany, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Argentina, Japan Uruguay, Qatar, China and South Korea! So, I have a couple of quickfire questions from your time on your travels. Now out of respect for your former teams, this is going to be about the countries rather than the teams themselves, so:
MBA: For me, it was Mexico. We had won a championship in Mexicali, it's right on the border of California and Mexico, and it was just amazing. The home games out there are ridiculous, it was like playing again in front of a US college crowd and you know, those areas get real loud and rocking. I think because we went so far in the championship that was the craziest. Such devoted fans. Argentina was really good and also Serbia, they are very basketball dominated countries. Game in game out they were sold out so that was a lot of fun as well.
Swish: Best Food?
MBA: That’s really interesting, I have been to countries where they have their own special types of food. In Argentina, they had Asado, barbecued meats which they are very well known for. Mexico... I mean, I love Mexican food in general, and we actually had a Mexican cook in Mexico, so it was really authentic Mexican food which I actually loved. The South of France, I ate out a lot in the South of France, I was close to The Cannes area, Monaco so they had really good restaurants, really good sit down food. I know its weird because I am well-travelled but as a kid coming from South London with so many different influences, I'd say that’s why I am diverse in my food. For me, it’s been a joyous ride on the food scale because I like to try out a lot of things and I am not shy in trying new things with different cultures.
Swish: Biggest language barrier?
MBA: All Asian countries. South Korea and China just because the languages are so different. I could go to countries in the South Americas and I picked up some Spanish but the Asian countries it is so difficult. I could barely pick it up, outside of saying, hello/goodbye it's hard to pick up much.
Swish: We often hear players in your position talk about the benefits of experiencing different cultures and becoming well-rounded people, but it must have been hard, right?
MBA: Yeah, it's not for everybody and you hear it sometimes. Guys that have gone over to the States from the UK and you see that they are back a year or two later and it’s not necessarily just to do with talent or anything. At that age it just about being able to be away from friends and family, and being able to be that kind of lone shark, to get through everything. It just depends on your goals and where you want to be and how much you want to make it and if it's stronger than your ties at home then you can do it.
You hear sometimes about a lot of Americans that play in college and end up coming to Europe and it’s the first time they have left The States and they find it difficult, and then you hear that guys who are really talented that may not have made it to the NBA but are playing in Europe, two-three years down the line they are ready to say, “I’m done with basketball, I need to be back at home around my friends and family”. It is really tough, not everybody can do it. Obviously, there are perks, playing in the best competitions and being able to live that lifestyle, going to university and being a college star and whatnot, but it is not as easy as it may seem.
Swish: Finally, I wanted to give you the chance to speak on your former coach Jimmy Rogers. For those who don't know, Jimmy was founder and Coach of Brixton Topcats, a team that has produced many players in this league and worldwide, including yourself, reigning BBL MVP Justin Robertson, and the most famous being former NBA All-Star Luol Deng. Jimmy Sadly passed of Cancer late last year. What are your greatest memories of that time, and how important are people like Jimmy in the future of British Basketball?
MBA: Jimmy was hard on you no matter what. We always got into it, maybe the type of child I was, my personality… I think he could see the potential in my talent. As I got older he used to talk to me about different situations or different times we had growing up, and why he was so tough on me. In his last days, I went to see him a lot myself. I would go up to his house and we would just talk, a lot of old stories. I remember going there with my mum, and he told me that the one thing he did love about me was also one thing he hated about me! My personality was so strong, if I was right, I wasn’t going to let anybody else tell me that I was wrong, regardless of the situation. That is why we bumped heads so much because I would find a way to get it done but it would have to be my way.
As a coach, he was obviously trying to let me find my way but also guide me in the right direction. For me, Jimmy was a father figure in basketball. He showed me the ropes, showed me how to do it and was somebody able to guide so many children and make sure they had focus, with basketball being a medium to show us how life worked through the sport.
There were so many kids whose fathers weren’t around, and Jimmy would always look out for them. There were guys in gangs or around the street life and everybody kind of used basketball as their outlet. Once we were on the court Jimmy taught us to take out those frustrations - the personal anger or anything going on in your mind. That was the best time.
There were two hours of practice, plus games, where you were pretty much free, from anything that was going on in your life. It was important for everyone to be able to come out, have fun and not think about anything else while they are in practice, just engaging and working with other kids, adults and peers. Being able to be part of a team, and knowing you are letting someone down if you are not doing your job. Just life lessons that you didn’t even realise Jimmy was instilling in you, helping you to push through in life.
Mo Stewart for Swish Productions