© Rob Blanchard photo
Aaron O'Brien, left, guards his man during a game between his University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds and the Acadia Axemen earlier this month.
FREDERICTON, N.B. — Aaron O’Brien has never let a heavy heart hold him down.
The 19-year-old, who is a starter with the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds men’s basketball team, lost his grandfather, Frank Dalton, last week.
“It was something I expected, but it was just really early,” said the Pasadena native. “It was definitely a bit of a surprise.”
He immediately flew to St. John’s last Wednesday to be with his family, missing two of his team’s games against St. Mary’s University, a win, and the University of Prince Edward Island, a loss.
O’Brien has displayed a superhuman ability to overcome personal tragedy in the past, particularly after the December 2010 death of his younger sister Holly in an automobile accident.
It should surprise no one that he’ll be back in the lineup for his team this weekend for a two-game set against Acadia University.
The V-Reds are currently 4-7 on the year, clinging to the sixth and final playoff spot in the eight-team Atlantic University Sport (AUS) league.
Since starting the season 1-3, O’Brien and the V-Reds have coasted along at pretty much the same clip.
The six-foot-nine, 230-pound O’Brien continues to struggle with consistency in his second year with the club. But he’s shown signs of potential dominance, especially when he faces off against the Memorial University of Newfoundland Sea-Hawks, a team that tried and failed to recruit him upon his graduation from Pasadena Academy.
He scored eight points against the Sea-Hawks during a 77-69 victory on Nov. 24, adding seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block in 25 minutes of action. He followed that up with a 12-point performance on Nov. 25, with six rebounds and six blocks in 24 minutes of a 89-79 win.
Against the league-leading, undefeated Cape Breton University on Nov. 30, he put down 12 points, with three rebounds and three blocks, though the V-Reds were defeated 96-77. Then his play tapered off a little.
He struggled in a follow-up game against Cape Breton on Dec. 1, a 95-83 loss that saw him score seven points, with two rebounds and a block, though he played only 12 minutes. Following the Christmas break, on Jan. 12, the V-Reds lost 91-75 to St. Francis Xavier University, with O’Brien managing just three points, with three rebounds and a block, in 16 minutes.
With two big games against Acadia coming on Saturday and Sunday, he’s hoping he can bring his game back to where it was previously.
“I’ve got to find that consistency,” he said. “That’s the big thing right now.”
Essentially, he said, he would like every game to feel like when he plays against the Sea-Hawks.
“I get out on the floor and I’m confident,” he said. “Once my head’s in the game, I’m fine. It’s just a matter of being ready to be in the game and I’ve got to find out what does that for me.”
O’Brien, who is ranked second in the AUS with 17 blocks, believes five wins in the season’s remaining nine games would be enough to hold off the seventh-place St. Mary’s (3-8) and push the V-Reds into the playoffs.
“If we went on the road to Acadia this weekend and got a W, it’d be astronomical, it’d be huge,” he said.
And if he needs to draw a little inspiration, something special to help him on the hardwood, his thoughts will turn to his grandfather.
“He loved watching basketball,” said O’Brien. “I’ll definitely be putting up a few shots for him.”