Whittier students mourn Kobe Bryant
WHITTIER – Kobe Bryant meant so much to so many people around the basketball world. But to these high school girls and boys basketball players, it was more than the game on the hardwood floor to them.
Players from Whittier, Cal High and La Serna reflected on what the Lakers icon meant to them, on and off the floor.
The interviews were conducted with practice going on in the background, and with the permission and participation of their coaches.
Here are some of the players’ comments:
Whittier High School (boys)
Christian Lopez: “Obviously his work ethic and mentality. But I always saw it off the court, such as working hard at school, trying your best, doing your homework. Not only on a basketball court did you work hard but set an example for whatever you have a passion for.
“At first, it was oh, Kobe… fade away, but once I made the transition from middle school to high school, which can be tough, that’s when I started looking more to what he said instead of on the court as much. I took that to my everyday life.”
David Flores: “My dad would get papers and I’d read them and learn about the game and Kobe in the locker room. He inspired me. Once I got a phone, I learned how to use YouTube and that’s how I watched Kobe highlights or his motivational videos. He just thought outside the box and he was so blunt.
“I think his wife will continue his legacy and the people will continue to push it, along with the superstars of the league.”
Danny Calvillo: “When I was eight years old, my stepdad put me in basketball and my step uncle mentioned Kobe and I didn’t know who he was. I watched [Kobe’s] videos every day and I found this great quote he said. The whole team was inspired. The quote was ‘no matter what, keep shooting.’
“The day he passed, I couldn’t be home and I asked my varsity coach (Ralph Rivera) if I could go to the gym and shoot baskets. But I couldn’t because of a tournament, so I got ahold of the La Serna freshman coach, Carlos, and he opened up their gym and for six hours we shot baskets.”
Nathan Jimenez: “I started watching Kobe with my grandpa and he inspired me. His work ethic was the best on the court. We lost an icon. He was a legend to L.A. He just didn’t quit, even though his body was quitting. He still got back on the court with his injuries.
“I once got some free tickets for the Lakers and they were down by six and Kobe scored two 3-pointers to tie the game against the Raptors and he just didn’t give up. He did everything by himself. It was a very memorable game.”
Ralph Rivera (boys basketball coach): “The kids have just grown up with Kobe. He was like the Michael Jordan of my day. [Kobe] just took the game to another level. His academy will carry on… Even when Kobe stopped playing, the kids were still shouting, ‘Kobe! Kobe!’
“I just think that kids will still watch his videos.”
Whittier High School (girls)
Julia Ochoa (2016 grad): “Even after he retired, I still watched his games. I have the games on our DVR. In that moment you didn’t think that he would die. When he retired, it was a huge void in the basketball world. Now that he’s gone, you see that impact across the world.
“He was like an onion – full of layers – basketball, a father, an entrepreneur, a businessman. He had so much to give to this world.”
Lindsey Rico: “I started playing in fourth grade and I didn’t really pay attention to basketball games on TV, but once I got to middle school, I just watched the Lakers. “Watching Kobe just stuck out in the crowd. Just let him do what he does.
I think his legacy will continue. With everyone talking about Kobe now, the younger kids will know about him in the future. I enjoyed Kobe playing against LeBron.”
Payton Gomez: “It was really crazy seeing him play and how he controls the floor. He brings such intensity to the floor. No one wanted to let him shoot. But, me being not the best shooter, it’s really crazy that you can have that contested of a shot and still see it go in.
“Moving on, I think people are really going to learn from his intensity and his heart, playing through injuries and coming back from injuries and control your team.”
Willie Pittman (girls basketball coach): “As a coach, Kobe allowed me to show the players that success comes before work only in the dictionary. He allowed me to show them what loyalty, dedication and commitment really is. What it is to be a real superhero with a dual identity: off the court Kobe is the husband, father, mentor, supporter, leader and busy man, but he would change and transform when he hits the court, becoming the Black Mamba… a cold assassin, ready to rip your heart out.”
Cal High (boys)
Chris Tores: “I was five or six when I started playing basketball. When I was little, I really liked Kobe a lot because I was born on March 24th and his number was 24. It was pretty cool seeing Kobe playing when I was growing up. I tried to get his moves down, like his fade away.
“Just keep doing what you’re doing, because you never know when it’s going to end. Kobe was always in the gym – first one in and last one out. Actually, his last game was my best memory because he dropped 60.”
Gabriel Avalos: “When he was alive his legacy was everything. Because of what he did, you have to honor that. His mentality, his work ethic of what he did. Everyone had his own player to look up to, and ours was Kobe. That was our guy. If you’re a Laker now, you have to live up to his legacy.
“When I was really young, my dad woke me up and it was his 81-point game. I didn’t really understand because I was young and he wanted me to watch the game.”
Timothy Dayton: “It’s a mental battle; [injured] every day, seeing guys that you love to play with, knowing that you can’t play. With Kobe’s perspective, he’s just waiting because he knows when he comes back, he’s going to ball out. His last game was incredible.”
Joel Simonds (boys basketball coach): “The example that Kobe put forth and my message to them was you have to take the mentality and work on the court. Kobe, when he was playing, took a lot of heat and was a teammate that was hard to deal with. He demanded the best of himself. The lesson to me was you have to be the best you can be.”
Cal High (girls)
Rayna Perez: “I remember getting Lakers pajamas and a Kobe shirt when I was six years old from my grandma and grandpa. My inspiration was just the way he shot. The way he wasn’t scared when he went up. I think his legacy will be his mentality, always wanting to be the best out there.
“I played at one of their academy’s against Gianna.”
Sanya Prasad: “I remember sitting on the couch with my dad when I was in second grade watching the game. It was mesmerizing. It was so cool. Hands down. I always wanted to have his mentality and work ethic.
“He deserves to be remembered in such a good light. He was a great person and a great player, a friend, a father and someone’s son. Just the way he carried himself, I don’t think anyone else in the NBA has that ability. I don’t know man, it’s a huge tragedy to lose someone so beautiful.”
Jessica Deheza: “I started playing at seven years old and used to want to be like him. I tried to imitate him when I was little. Just the way he pushed himself.
“I played against his daughter, Gigi, and I was so nervous. It was an honor. He was the coach. I didn’t actually meet him but that game I had to be the best I could. His legacy will be even bigger now.”
Desirae Martinez: “He was way more than a basketball player. He always wanted to be the best. He knew what he wanted to be and he worked extra hard. I tried to be like him to be a team captain like him with the Lakers. He was everything to everyone all over the whole universe and everyone was so heartbroken.”
Brian Barber (girls basketball coach): “Not just my basketball players but on campus the Laker fans were just sad. They said, ‘Mr. Barber, it’s a sad day.’ I told the kids I felt really bad for his wife.
“My daughter played soccer and played against his daughter and that’s where the Mamba started. When he was there, he was awesome. The kids just swarmed him and he talked to every one of them. He was amazing. I wish other athletes were like that.”
La Serna High School (boys)
MJ Aristegui: “He was one-of-a-kind, a great person and showed his love to the fans. I remember my first Laker game that I went to, I was so excited to go. That was one of the best ones to get to see him. I tried to do fade aways and when the ball went in the net I would yell, ‘Kobe!’
“I was always thinking about him and he was one of the greats. My heart just dropped when I heard he died.”
Axel Mendoza: “Outside of the court, Kobe was very respectful and he loved his family. I’ve learned a lot from him. Some of my moves were based on him. I make some of them, including the fadeaway. I grew up watching him and the reason why I play basketball is because of him. He’s a real impact to our generation.”
Kevin Perez: “I’m not going to lie, I cried when I heard the news. Seeing how my parents and how they were affected was crazy. They didn’t grow up watching basketball. He was a great person on and off the court.
“He’ll be missed, that’s for sure. I have his jersey and wish I had a pair of Kobe’s shoes.”
Jacob Arreola: “He does so much off the court. He donates a lot and it just shows how much he actually means to people.
“His legacy will live on forever. You see everyone just yelling his name when they’re shooting shots. Kobe kind of became an inspiration to me. My brother was a really big Laker fan and I started playing basketball. It’s just too early to see him go.”
Courtlan Armstrong: “Kobe motivates people, he was just one of those guys that will bring you up. He will have the legacy of competitiveness. A lot of kids will look him up and what he was about.
“Watching him and watching his interviews helped motivate me a lot. He said use your wounds in the game as a weapon.”
Marino Angulo (boys basketball coach): “The players witnessed his greatness. He walked the talk. He worked harder than anybody else.
“Somebody losing their life, knowing what the agony of their family is like, hits home. Your heart goes out to the family and it’s going to be a nightmare.
He made mistakes, but when this happened, I respected him. People are given a second chance and those are things that I talk about as well.”
La Serna High School (girls)
Arianna Perez: “Kobe definitely has a legacy. He’s in a league by himself. He created a whole generation of kids. Whenever they shoot into a trash can, it’s Kobe. He’s a great basketball player, but beyond that I look to him more as a role model for his kids and the way he worked humanitarian causes, especially promoting his daughter Gianna’s basketball career. I love that he promoted her and what he did off the court.”
Haley Preston: “Kobe loved the game and I bet he struggled at the time when he tore his Achilles tendon. I bet he had a hard time going to practice and it probably made him a lot stronger. Especially with me (being injured), for the longest time since I’ve been out, I struggled coming to practice and games and watch my team play.
“For me, it was about him and his family and when he was injured he wasn’t worried about the game, he was worried about his family. It was about him showing his daughters and his wife that no matter what happens to me, I am here for you. That’s what has inspired me.”
Ju Ju Acosta: “For me to play the same game as him, was very important to me. There would be times where I just didn’t want to play and kind of lose that sense of heart, but just thinking of him and how hard he works it made me push harder and to strive to be better. It’s amazing how much influence he can have on the younger generation.”
Juliebeth Martinez: “I was supposed to play soccer, but I tripped over my own feet. My dad and I were watching Kobe and Shaq and the Lakers and their relationship was kind of like my father and I. It was tough. Growing up, Kobe was my idol and he still is my idol.
The only thing I could use of Kobe was his intensity of driving it.”
Isabela Angulo: “With Kobe and his daughter, its’ kind of like my dad (boys varsity coach Marino Angulo) and I. My dad has always been there for me and would push me probably like Kobe would do to Giana. He was always there for her too.
“Kobe left that legacy of hard work and it was great of how hard he worked all the time and his outreach in the community. Not only was he an amazing basketball player, but his inspiration around the world. He will be in the back of my mind.”
Rosalie Avalos: “Hearing the news, it was heartbreaking, just heartbreaking. It was too soon. The future of what girls basketball is going to be, because of him, was exciting. Just thinking that he and his daughter being gone is heartbreaking.
“It’s hard being in his shoes and carrying a team. He never lost his heart. If anything, it kind of grew.”
Justine Mejia: “My parents were always preaching hard work and dedication. You go to have that Mamba mentality. My parents have always been supportive and always wanted me to have work ethic. Obviously, they showed me Kobe highlights. It made me get interested in him and made me realize how much of an inspirational person he was.
“My stepdad taught me Kobe’s footwork. I had to work on the fundamentals of the game, like the way he pivots and the way he jabs at the ball.”
Steve Hemenway (girls basketball coach): “This tragedy hit our La Serna family hard. With this pain and emptiness came a great teaching moment about how precious life is and getting the most out of every day through hard work is a must.
“I told my girls that we can’t know the answer to why, but added that I believe so much of what Kobe is being praised for is not his skill level. It is more about his work ethic and how over the last few years of his life he made his family priority number one. A model we can all aim to achieve.”