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

John Browne jbrowne@thetelegram.com
Published on April 12, 2011

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.”

jbrowne@thetelegram.com