Columbine boys basketball's Luke O'Brien loves being "The Guy"

Columbine Dakota Ridge boys basketball

(Lance Wendt/LanceWendt.com)

January 13, 2018 was a very significant day for Columbine's Luke O'Brien. He can recall the game in which he scored 40 points in an 86-79 overtime win over Bear Creek but doesn't think too much of it just a couple years later.

But the reaction outside of Columbine, Jefferson County and the greater Denver area was a little more telling of how much attention this year's Class 5A CHSAANow.com boys basketball Player of the Year would get as an upperclassman.

That kid's a sophomore?

"It was a defining moment," O'Brien said. "When I hit that, that's what I was most known for and it snowballed into the player that I am now. That's one of the best games I've ever played."

It was on that day, the day that Columbine had won just its fifth game of the season, that a lot of people figured out who Luke O'Brien was.

"He had an ability to take over," Rebels coach Clay Thielking said. "That game went into overtime and he kind of just pushed us over the edge and made big plays late when it mattered. From a clutch perspective, that's where he showed what he could do."

He had averaged a respectable 11 points per game as a freshman and that number jumped to almost 17 as a sophomore.

As a junior and a senior he had gotten the attention of the people he really needed to get the attention of. Perhaps the most notable was Tad Boyle, a former standout Colorado player and current head men's basketball coach at the University of Colorado.

A scholarship offer was made and O'Brien quickly accepted.

"The whole recruiting process was really stressful," he said. "Every time I came up to CU, I was so welcomed. Tad really wanted. He kept persisting about how he wanted me to play there. Once I was offered, it was a no-brainer."

One look at the numbers and it's a given that O'Brien is a Power 5 player. For his career, he shot 47 percent from the field, including 56 percent from inside the 3-point line. As his abilities grew, so did his body.

Listed at 6-foot-8, O'Brien had no problem crashing the boards, even playing from a guard position for the Rebels. He finished the year tied at 13th in the state regardless of classification in rebounds per game at 12.4.

"He's so unique," Thielking said. "He's so skilled and he makes things look really easy because of his skill level. When you combine that with his length and the fact that he's long and pretty athletic, he just does so many things that impact the game on both ends of the floor."

Six times in in the 2019-20 season, O'Brien scored 30 or more points. With even a brief, general knowledge of what he's been capable of the last few seasons, that hardly comes as a surprise.

But the reality is that it's a stat that's more impressive with a bit of added context to it. Because heading into each game, the Rebels' opponents had a solid defensive gameplan.

If they can slow down O'Brien, they give themselves their best chance at winning the game.

He was constantly being attacked with double- and triple-team defensive sets. That just made his plan of attack a little more fun.

"I love competition," O'Brien said. "I love that defenses were throwing box-and-ones at me and double-teaming and triple-teaming me. It was fun taking over games and being that guy on the team."

Being 'The Guy' was a role he thrived in as he got the Rebels to the 5A Great 8 at the Denver Coliseum. After scoring 33 points in a Sweet 16 win over Boulder he got his team to a building where he had always dreamed of playing. 

Next winter, O'Brien will bring the same qualities that made him a star at Columbine to the floor of the CU Events Center. He and 3A Player of the Year Dominique Clifford will help make up a freshman class that should be exciting for CU Buffs fans throughout the state.

There's no doubt that O'Brien passes the eye test that comes with being a next-level basketball player, but it was important for him to choose the right spot. And that just happened to be close to home.

"He thought about it for a while," Thielking said. "He fell in love with the people up there. He loved the coaching staff, he really enjoyed his time with the players up there and it just felt right to him. It also gave him the chance to play close to his family."

Which means they'll be around to watch his continued development. And if it tracks the way it did at Columbine and he drops 40 points in a Pac-12 game as a sophomore, O'Brien and his family are going to have a lot of fun in the future.

(Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)