Centenary student assistant basketball coach defies odds, inspires team during historic season

Posted: Updated:

At the age of eight, Kyle O'Brien was given just three months to live. But the Hoptacong native defied the odds, and more than a decade later, is living his dream of being a college basketball coach.

"Basketball is my first love," Kyle said.

"You take a bump on the elbow and it doesn't mean so much when you're looking at Kyle on the bench and he's cheering you on," Centenary junior guard Christopher Labelle said.

When Kyle was eight, he was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor in his brain stem, doctors initially gave him three months to live. Determined to keep their son happy during his final months, the family allowed Kyle to continue to play sports.

"Why not me, why him?" Kyle's dad Pat O'Brien said.

A month after his initial diagnoses, Kyle collapsed following a baseball game. He was airlifted to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

"We were talking to him and he said, 'Mom and dad I'm going to be OK, on the flight I saw this bright yellow light and I heard a voice telling me you're going to be OK, I have a bigger plan for you,'" Pat O'Brien recalled.

After doctors at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia saw Kyle's fighting spirit, they put him through a rigorous treatment plan including chemotherapy, proton radiation and ten surgeries, all through the course of two years. Because of the treatment, doctors thought Kyle would be confined to a wheelchair, but again, Kyle persevered.

"We knew that wasn't an option, he was going to walk," O'Brien said.

More than a decade later, Kyle is a healthy 19-year-old. He said his tumor is stable and he is expected to live a full life, but he'll never play competitive sports again.

"I'm not going to feel sorry for myself, I want to coach and teach others the way I knew how to play," Kyle said.

That dream began last year, Kyle was deciding on college when he met Centenary assistant coach Paul Jones at a gym.

"It was a no brainer for me, and I knew it would be a no-brainer for Coach G to open the doors for him and have him come in," Jones said.

Jones arranged an interview with head basketball coach Jason Geleski.

"I spent more than 10 years in the United States Army and Infantry, I know tough men, Kyle's a tough kid," Geleski said.

Between class, practice and breaking down film, Kyle sometimes puts in 16-hour days, and still maintains a 4.0 GPA.

"He'll tell me, 'Hey that was horrible,' and I'm like yeah you're right," Labelle said. "I think when you respect how much time he puts into it, he really knows what he's talking about."

With Kyle on the bench this year, Centenary is having its best season in program history, and even clinched the number one seed in the conference tournament for the first time ever.

When Kyle finishes his sports management degree at Centenary in a few years, he said his dream is to become a graduate assistant basketball coach at the University of Notre Dame.

"Never let someone tell you you can't do something," Kyle said. "Because that motivates you to do whatever want to do, and makes it much more important to you."

sorry to interrupt
your first 20 are free
Access to News 12 is free for Optimum, Comcast®, Spectrum Networks® and Service ElectricSM customers.
Please enjoy 20 complimentary views of articles, photos, and videos during the next 30 days.
you have reached your 20 view limit
Access to News 12 is free for Optimum, Comcast®, Spectrum Networks® and Service ElectricSM customers.
Please login or create an account to continue enjoying News12.
Our sign-up page is undergoing maintenance and is not currently available. However, you will be given direct access to news12.com while we complete our upgrade.
When we are back up and running you will be prompted at that time to complete your sign in. Until then, enjoy the local news, weather, traffic and more that's "as local as local news gets."