Matt O'Bbrien, head men's basketball coach, instructs his team during the game against Kansas Wesleyan University Jan. 27. This is O'Brien's second year as a head coach. Carly Budd/Collegian photographer

By Clinton Dick
Staff reporter

You wouldn’t think that a man who grew up in Brooklyn, NY playing street ball and who now coaches men’s basketball at the collegiate level could be so soft spoken, yet have such intensity on the sidelines. Then again, there are many who have yet to meet Matt O’Brien, head men’s basketball coach.

Even as a kid, O’Brien knew that someday he wanted to coach basketball.

“I was always the one who organized the games and picked the teams,” said O’Brien. “I loved the strategy of the game at an early age and I have family members who coach, so it is something I always knew I wanted to do.”

Matt’s father, Jim O’Brien, formerly coached basketball at Ohio State University and Boston College, while James, his younger brother, coaches at Conway Springs High School.

The O’Brien family moved from the swirling metropolis of New York to small, urban Conway Springs when Matt was a freshman in high school.

“It was a tough transition,” said O’Brien. “I lived in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the world and was not used to a small town where everyone was interested in the new kid. I wasn’t comfortable with the attention.”

He played basketball throughout high school for the Cardinals, bringing his street style of basketball with him.

“I didn’t fit in basketball right away because I had played so much street ball that my coaches had never seen before,” said O’Brien.

O’Brien earned the Most Valuable Player award both his junior and senior year. He then went on to receive his undergraduate degree from Friends University in Physical Education.

It didn’t take long for his coaching career to start either.

“I started coaching under Ron Heller at Friends right after I graduated,” said O’Brien. “He enstilled a lot of confidence in me at an early age.”

O’Brien was an assistant coach for seven years before taking his first head coaching job at Central Christian College in McPherson in 2006. There, he found success that his predecessors could not.

“We took a team that had won five games a year for the past 10 years and were able to take them to their first winning season in 24 years. It was very rewarding and a great experience.”

Last year, O’Brien took over the reigns as head coach at Southwestern. He has begun to earn the respect, not only of his players, but of those who he comes in contact with as well.

“Matt has been tremendously gracious to me as a broadcaster,” said Charles Osen, new bureau coordinator. “Coming from Central Christian where they don’t have radio, he was thrilled beyond belief about doing pre- and post-game interviews.”

Osen also explains how O’Brien has worked very hard in his year and a half tenure as head coach.

“Matt takes on a lot of the things that go wrong,” said Osen. “If we just lost by 20 on the road, he is sitting on the bus on the way home studying what we did wrong on film right after the game is over.”

O’Brien’s coaching style isn’t about the numbers or the who-did-what. In fact, O’Brien thinks that a coach who is consistently negative has a negative effect on the team. He wants those who play under him, not to just succeed as players, but as young men.

“I am not looking for players who are just interested in basketball and not furthering their education,” said O’Brien. “I tell our guys to simply do what is right. We focus on that on a daily basis.”

O’Brien’s positive attitude is what personifies his leadership of the team. It reflects upon his players.

“He tries to stay positive with us no matter what,” said Jared Irvin, junior guard. “You can tell he has an authority.”

O’Brien’s childhood dream has been more than satisfactory for him. He says he loves being in a position that allows him to encourage people every day.

“This is my dream job and I love what I am doing. My favorite part is building relationships with players and seeing their growth as players and young men.”

The man who grew up in the streets of Brooklyn will have many more chances to do just that as he continues down his coaching path.

Clinton Dick is a sophomore majoring in convergent journalism. You may e-mail him at

Edited by Paige Carswell.