Pitt Basketball Coaches Share Thoughts on Kobe Bryant


Throughout the world, the sports community continues to mourn the loss of former NBA great Kobe Bryant, who died suddenly on Sunday morning when his helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California. 

Bryant, 41, and his daughter Gianna, 13, were among nine victims who perished in the crash.

The stunning news of Bryant’s death spread quickly, including to the basketball teams at the University of Pittsburgh, where coaches Jeff Capel and Lance White shared their thoughts on Bryant’s passing on Monday.

“For me, that’s where it hit home the most, the human side of it,” Capel added. “I loved him as a player, I loved watching him. As a guy that has daughters, or has young kids — my oldest is twelve — my kids travel with me to recruit sometimes. It hits close to home when you think about it that way.”

White, Pitt’s second-year women’s basketball coach, shared his thoughts via social media on Bryant, who was frequently seen with Gianna at WNBA and women’s college games, and had become one of the most famous male athletes to ever show such public support of women’s basketball.

Yesterday the world lost a legend.Today we remember the man and father that did so much not only for the game of basketball, but made an impact worldwide.#RIPMamba // #RIPGianna // #MambaOut -- pic.twitter.com/DjFwARYUiY

— Pitt Basketball (@Pitt_WBB) January 27, 2020

A native of Philadelphia, Bryant went straight from high school to the NBA in 1996. He often said that, had he attended college, it would have been at Duke, where he and Capel would have been teammates for one season.

“It’s crossed my mind before,” Capel said. “When I was in school at Duke, our coaching staff was recruiting him very hard. One guy in particular, Tommy Amaker — he’s the head coach at Harvard now — he was our top assistant. He would talk about (Bryant) all the time, because he was the one that would go see him. 

“He would say that he was the best high school player he’s ever seen, and how talented he was. It’s crossed my mind before about what that would’ve been like if he had gone to college, if it would’ve been Duke, to have a chance to play with one of the best guys to every lace them up.”

White’s team found out the news as they entered the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky for Sunday’s game against the Cardinals. As news spread through the arena, shock and sadness filled the faces of many.

Back in Pittsburgh, as the Panthers’ men's team prepared to play at Duke Tuesday night, players took to social media to express their grief. 

“It’s been tough for them,” Capel said. “These guys, these young guys, they admired him so much. They looked up to him so much as a player and what he’s meant for the game of basketball. It’s like a superhero dying.”

The location of Bryant’s death has a Pitt connection, also. Junior guard Ryan Murphy played high school basketball in Calabasas, and wears Bryant’s number, 24, on the court. 

“He’s taking it hard,” Capel said. “I have talked to him, listened and just talked. We have several guys who are taking it pretty hard.”

Thank you ❤️ 8.10.24.. my idol. The reason for the 24. May God rest your soul.. hurt& heartbroken isn’t the word. pic.twitter.com/LU21aEpEbL

— Murph dawg (@Ryanmurphhoop) January 26, 2020

“Kobe was one of these guys that seemed invincible,” Capel added. “You saw him get hurt, with an achilles (injury), and shoot free throws and walk off the court, and come back from that. It’s almost like, well, he can do that and he willed himself so many times during his basketball career, playing through injuries, that it’s just kind of hard to believe that this happened.”

Following his playing career, which ended with Bryant third on the NBA’s career scoring list, with five NBA titles, two Olympic gold medals and countless other honors, Bryant turned to other avenues of work. That included including Kobe, inc., a company that invested in and grew ventures related to the sports industry. He wrote children’s books, and became the first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Short film for Dear Basketball, a five-minute film based off of Bryant’s retirement letter. 

“A lot of guys have a hard time when they retire, especially someone that loves the game so much,” Capel said. “It was interesting because it seemed like a seamless transition. He poured himself into other stuff. He had other passions. For goodness sake, the guy won an Oscar.”