Claire Maree O’Bryan attempting a shot on the court

Passion Play

January 19, 2016

by William Bowman

Claire Maree O’Bryan ’16

Basketball standout Claire Maree O’Bryan ’16 settles into life away from ‘the bush’


The fact that Claire Maree O’Bryan '16 landed at Bucknell, 10,000 miles from her home in a remote village in northern Australia may seem surprising. Yet O’Bryan always knew, growing up among indigenous people in “the bush,” that she was destined for bigger things. The 5-foot-10-inch guard has used her three-plus years in Lewisburg to grow as a basketball player, a person and leader with lofty goals yet to pursue.

Her ambition "to venture out and do my own thing" led her from the village where she and her sisters were the only white children, as she says, "eight hours from the nearest hospital, eight hours from the nearest anything. We had our food flown in by planes and when the planes didn’t come, you’d live off potatoes for a week."

Before she turned 10, O’Bryan moved with her parents to Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory. There, she developed a passion for basketball, which eventually led her to prep school in Pennsylvania, then to Bucknell, through connections her mother had made during her travels.

Coach Aaron Roussell had one scholarship to award when he arrived at Bucknell in 2012. He’d watched videos of O’Bryan playing and when he met her, he was sold.

It has not been easy, on or off court, for O’Bryan. Just before her first year, she was ruled ineligible by the NCAA as an international student-athlete because of the length of time between her high-school graduation in Australia and enrollment at Bucknell. She was forced to sit out the 2012-13 season. "It was heartbreaking for her," Roussell says. "She didn’t deserve that."

O’Bryan, a neuroscience major, threw herself into schoolwork and campus life, becoming a Patriot League Academic Honor roll member and the co-president of the Bucknell Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Keeping busy enables her to cope with homesickness and fulfill her desire to help others.

Her family hasn’t seen her play at Bucknell but keeps up with the action by watching games online through BisonVison, the university’s online video-streaming service. Graduation in May will be the first time in two years she’s seen her mother.

In the thick of basketball season, when things are going well, her teammates help to buoy her. "These are friends I will have for life," O’Bryan says. "There have been highs and lows, but they have combined to create an experience that really makes you grow up. You have to embrace it all."