Matt Brien is switching saints but his ultimate dream has not budged an inch.
The talented Oamaru basketballer is moving to Wellington to do another year of secondary school and play for St Patrick’s College.
Brien (17), part of St Kevin’s College teams that won the New Zealand A title in 2013 and last year, leaves on Tuesday.
The opportunity to join the Wellington school came through a link with Brendon Polyblank, the former Tall Black who coached St Kevin’s in 2013 – and maintains a relationship with the school – and now coaches St Patrick’s.
“Brendon came down just before nationals and asked what I was doing next year,” Brien said.
“He mentioned the possibility of joining St Patrick’s because he had a couple of spots open on the team.
“We discussed things a bit more after nationals and we just sorted it out from there.”
Brien said it had been a difficult decision to commit to another year of school and to leave behind his supportive family.
But everything he now does on the court is building towards his goal: earning a college scholarship to the United States.
“I know this is going to help my basketball a lot. I’ll get more out of it than if I stayed here.
“The competition up there is going to be a lot different, a lot tougher.”
St Patrick’s will also be a different environment, as it is a single-sex school with twice as many pupils as the co-educational St Kevin’s.
Brien said he was “a little bit nervous” but had visited his new school a month ago for a tour – he noted the presence of two shiny new backboards in the school gym – and a meeting with the deputy principal.
Adapting to a new city should also be simple given he will be living with Polyblank.
“Brendon really knows his stuff. It’s going to be handy to be around him all the time.”
Brien played in the forward line for St Kevin’s, but at 1.9m in a higher level of basketball, he expects to see more time at small forward or as a stretch 4.
“I also need to get a bit quicker. Brendon’s also a personal trainer, so that will be handy.”
His supportive parents, Chris and Paula, were already planning some trips to Wellington to watch him play, Brien said.
He will look back with pride on his time at St Kevin’s and his role in helping the small Oamaru school win two national titles.
“When I started, basketball wasn’t really that big at St Kevin’s. But we’ve ended up doing really well. They’re a really good group of guys.”