Province's top male high school hoopster chooses UNB over Memorial

John Browne
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The best male high school basketballer in this province and one of the top prospects in the country is headed to New Brunswick.

Aaron O’Brien of the Pasadena Academy Falcons has committed to the UNB Varsity Reds for the 2011-2012 season.

“It was a very tough decision and a very stressful one,” said O’Brien. “But in the end, I had to go with my heart.”

O’Brien, who was courted by a number of schools, got down to short list of Memorial, Dalhousie and UNB and says there was really no difference among the three, but choosing New Brunswick “just seemed right.”

“It was one of  more stressful things I had to do. I’ve been dreading the day I had to make my final decision,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien says he wasn’t exercising an opportunity to get off the island.

“If I could have stayed in Corner Brook and played AUS basketball, I would have,” said O’Brien, who garnered a full tuition scholarship at UNB and plans to study engineering.

O’Brien made his decision Friday and contacted Memorial men’s coach Peter Benoite a day later.

“The hardest part,” said O’Brien, “was telling Peter because he has been more than good to me. He’s been exceptional. He’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met and he’s done a lot of good things for me — inside and outside of basketball.”

“We’re pretty disappointed,” said Benoite. “We put a fair bit of effort into (getting) him and I thought he could make an early impact and certainly help us in the future because of his rebounding and his size.

“I also felt MUN would have been a good fit for him, but that’s the way recruiting goes sometimes. I’m not the first coach to lose a guy and he was recruited pretty hard. We got Jason Shepherd and Robbie Habib and there were universities in Nova Scotia trying to get them.”

The 6-8, 21º5 pound O’Brien agrees he might have started  sooner with MUN because they are lacking a big centre. But he added while basketball is helping him get where he’s going, it had little to do with what he wanted in the end and that UNB was simply a better.

O’Brien said he was impressed with UNB when he visited the campus earlier in the year.

UNB coach Brent Baker felt there wasn’t just one factor in O’Brien picking the Varsity Reds, who are preparing to move into a new recreational complex.

“There are three or four students at UNB who are from Pasadena, so I think he has a comfort level with our campus,” Baker told The Telegram Monday night. “I believe our basketball program and our new $64-million building were just icing on the cake,” added Baker. “He’ll be a big part of what we do as a basketball program moving forward.”

A member of the Newfoundland provincial team, O’Brien averaged 24 points and 14 rebounds per game in his last high school season.

The University of Toronto had also been courting O’Brien, although O’Brien said U of T was never a serious option.

Benoite said he wishes O’Brien all the best.

“I hope it works out for him. We’ll see what happens.

“I’m not going to enjoy him playing against us but, hopefully, we’ll enjoy beating him.”

Organizations: Pasadena Academy Falcons, University of Toronto

Geographic location: New Brunswick, Corner Brook, Nova Scotia Pasadena Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • unb-alum
    April 17, 2011 - 10:27

    Having watched the AUS for over twenty years, and having watched Benoite as a player, I can tell you that as a player he was a class act. One of the deadliest shooters in the history of the AUS. And from the 30 or so games I saw him play in, a sportsman as well. This is not a case of Peter losing a recruit; this is a case of a recruit considering his academic future. O'Brien indicated that he wanted to study engineering - UNB is recognized as one of the top schools in this field throughout the country and North America. The same cannot be said of UNB's basketball program. Contrary to what some of you think, UNB has been rebuilding since the 70's. Hammy and Gillespie brought the program glimmers of hope but they will continue to be a first -round AUS playoff disappointment for years to come.

    • bob parker
      July 19, 2011 - 22:50

      This is huge for the UNB program with some good recruits coming in this season. Interesting to hear a kid from Ottawa named Geoff Tait has commited to play at UNB next year as well.I hear he is a 2/3 guard/forward. Played with Justin Shaver(Carelton commit) for Nepean High school. Also some guys from Laval. Should be a competitive team next year in New Brunswick.

  • Jay Triano
    April 14, 2011 - 20:13

    Well, its like this. As a player, would you rather play for the Celtics or the Raptors? Think about it......yes, they are a door mat!!! The MUN men's program is bad.......horrible actually. They wouldn't beat the female team. I know of players that would rather sit out than play for MUN.

  • Former SeaHawk
    April 13, 2011 - 08:40

    Same old story. MUN has yet to recognize the value and importance of varsity athletics. The coaching staff and programs need the resources to help recruit and retain athletes. Some of the brightest and best students are athletes, a contribution the university needs to understand.

  • Tobias Flanderson
    April 13, 2011 - 08:37

    Not taking anything away from the program offered at mun, but I think what fans and alumni need to realize is that although Peter was very respected as a player, he doesn't have the same respect from current and former players. Word travels, and yes the needs of the players is first and foremost, however it doesn't take long for friends to talk about their experiences playing for him. Plus, nobody likes playing for a losing team, be it at home or not. And Jack, re-read the article, MUN isn't losing Peter, he's their coach. The article is about a Pasadena player by the name of Aaron O'brien. Peter was a great player, and still is for that matter, however tehcnically he has some learning to do. It's tough to coach when the talent isn't there, but teams have won in the past with heart. A good coach brings out the best in his players. Most Mun men's games this year were over in the first half.

  • Dad
    April 12, 2011 - 16:40

    So many people are so proud of u Aaron ! Overcome all adversity .... shoot for the stars, who knows maybe the Boston Celtics will get another Irishman

  • PAUL
    April 12, 2011 - 13:39

    MUN is extremely lucky to have Peter Benoite. The struggle to recruit top players from outside St. John's is definitely not a reflection of him. Contrary to DOUG's comment I also think Peter has great credibility with players and player development, in part due to his own stellar playing career. However any coach at MUN faces some big challenges more substantial than MUN's lack of AUS success - a sprawling campus bisected by a freeway that lacks the close-knit feel of most other AUS schools (even those in Halifax), OK academic reputation but not as strong as some competitors, and expensive flights that make MUN's low tuition less of a bargain. It is also important to remember that for Nflders on the West Coast MUN is not "local" and many of their classmates also choose to go to NS or NB. Obviously Doug Partridge has had some recruiting success but he is helped by a relatively deep in-province talent pool compared to the men.

    • Jack
      April 12, 2011 - 20:17

      Keep in mind that not all universities in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are within one block like Saint Mary's, Mount St. Vincent, University of Kings College, Acadia, or St. FX. Take Dalhousie University as an example. Unlike Saint Mary's or MSVU, Dalhousie is not located within one block. For example, Daltech (formerly Technical University of Nova Scotia) is located near Downtown Halifax while parts of the campus are scattered throughout the city's South End. As for star university Basketball players do their sport in their province, Benoite is not the only player choosing to play at another province. Take for example, Katherine Quackenbush, daughter of SMU Huskies coach Ross Quackenbush. Katherine could have played for SMU, but decided to play for MUN in the end. The point I'm trying to make is that star athletes want to play for a college that meets their needs, and maybe MUN didn't meet those of Mr. Benoite's.

  • Doug
    April 12, 2011 - 10:34

    This was a no-brainer for O'Brien from both a basketball and academic perspective. Instead of joining periennial door mat MUN, he is joining an up and coming program with a coaching staff capable of developing him into one of the better players in the conference. Recruiting at MUN is always going to be a challenge but it isn't a good sign when they can't even keep the local kids. Benoite needs to assemble a real coaching staff that is not only capable of developing players internally but also has some credibility with potential recruits elsewhere.

  • PowerA
    April 12, 2011 - 07:25

    Peter Benoite is a class act, great try at recruiting him but handled his decision with a great attitude. Best of luck to both programs in the future!