Suburban high school kids, coach reflect on what Kobe meant to them

  • Maine West's Angela Dugalic says she is heartbroken over the death of retired NBA legend Kobe Bryant.

      Maine West's Angela Dugalic says she is heartbroken over the death of retired NBA legend Kobe Bryant. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Antioch's Kobe Kriese was named for Kobe Bryant, who died Sunday in a helicopter crash in California.

      Antioch's Kobe Kriese was named for Kobe Bryant, who died Sunday in a helicopter crash in California. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Rolling Meadows' Max Christie, right, was shocked by the Sunday death of Kobe Bryant.

      Rolling Meadows' Max Christie, right, was shocked by the Sunday death of Kobe Bryant. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Rolling Meadows coach Kevin Katovich delivered a poignant message to his team Monday about the death of Kobe Bryant.

      Rolling Meadows coach Kevin Katovich delivered a poignant message to his team Monday about the death of Kobe Bryant. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 1/29/2020 4:08 PM

Kobe Bryant's influence wasn't limited to Southern California student-athletes.

It extended to the Chicago suburbs as well.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

To Antioch junior basketball player Kobe Kriese.

To Rolling Meadows star Max Christie, the nation's No. 1-ranked junior.

And, to Maine West senior standout Angela Dugalic.

They, along with Meadows boys basketball coach Kevin Katovich, reflected on the passing of Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash Sunday along with his 13-year old daughter, Gianna, and seven others.

Mourning Kobe, Gianna

Dugalic, a University of Oregon women's basketball recruit, is heartbroken.

The McDonald's All-American was basically speechless at the passing of her idol.

At a very young age, Dugalic wanted to be a Division I soccer player.

"He (Bryant) has been my idol a very long time," said the Warriors' fourth all-time leading scorer with nearly 1,600 points. "He is the reason I fell back in love with basketball."

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Bryant was flying to a youth basketball tournament at his Thousand Oaks, Calif., training facility, Mamba Sports Academy, when the crash occurred in Calabasas. There were no survivors.

Sunday was part of the first weekend of games in the inaugural Mamba Cup. Multiple reports said after he retired in 2016 following a storied 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant began to coach Gianna's middle school team.

ESPN reported Bryant's support for women's basketball extended to the college level. He became a close friend to University of Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu, going to her games -- along with Gianna -- and even dedicating an episode of his ESPN+ show to analyzing her game.

Ionescu showed Dugalic around the Oregon campus on Dugalic's official visit.

"Kobe was very public about his support of women's basketball, especially Oregon," said a tearful Dugalic.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"One of my friends got a text saying 'Kobe died?' " Dugalic said. "I thought it was a joke. Then I looked it up and I saw his daughter had died, too. I am lost for words."

Named for Kobe

Kriese, 17, was stunned at the news of Bryant's death.

His parents, Drew and Christy, named him after Bryant. Drew Kriese, who is from St. Louis, played high school basketball.

" My mom loved (Kobe Bryant) as a player," Kriese said. "My dad was actually a big Michael Jordan fan, but they both loved Kobe. They loved that he would never shy away from anything and just go after everything. He had that Mamba mentality, as he said."

Kobe Kriese was studying Sunday when he found out about Bryant's death. His phone started buzzing with text messages from friends.

"It was shocking when I found out. I didn't really know what to think," Kriese said. "I still really haven't fully wrapped my head around it. It's just tragic, especially with his daughter (passing) too.

"I think we all grew up watching Kobe because he was in our era, same with LeBron. Most of my friends, we loved watching Kobe. Everyone wanted to be like him."

Being like Kobe

It was all about the shoes.

It was all about being like Kobe.

Shoes are very important to basketball players, and when Max Christie got to high school, he knew exactly the kind of basketball shoes he wanted to wear.

"My freshman year, I got these Kobe Bryant low-top Nikes that were purple and white," Christie said. "I chose them because of Kobe. I wanted to be like Kobe."

Christie is off to a good start. He earned a starting spot on the varsity during his freshman season with the Kobe Bryant low-tops, and now he is one of the most sought-after high school players in the country, recruited by most top Division I programs.

Like many basketball players his age, Christie spent Sunday and Monday in disbelief the most iconic player of his generation had died.

"I'm shocked. It's just really tragic," Christie said of Bryant's death. "I've been thinking a lot about him and I hope he rests in peace.

"I watched him a lot when I was growing up and I can't think of a basketball fan that's not a Kobe fun. His impact on the basketball world was pretty profound. I'm definitely a Michael Jordan fan, but for people in my generation, Kobe Bryant is the closest you can get to Michael Jordan. When I was growing up, he was the best in the NBA, and definitely someone I looked up to."

A coach's message

On Monday, when Christie and his teammates showed up to practice, talk was still heavy on the Bryant tragedy, and Rolling Meadows head coach Kevin Katovich tried to find uplifting, profound and inspirational messages to share.

"As a basketball player, Kobe was obviously so brilliant, but he also had a flawed and complicated life," said Katovich, referring to a 2003 assault in which charges were dropped when the woman declined to testify and the case settled privately.

"I've talked to our players before about Kobe and here was someone who wasn't perfect, just like all of us, but he worked on his flaws and weaknesses. He tried to reform himself," Katovich said. "We talked about what life lessons you can learn, about making good choices and working to turn things around."

Katovich also talked to his players about how hard Bryant worked on the court. Bryant's relentless work ethic has been well documented.

"Kobe and Michael Jordan stand out as two of the fiercest competitors in our lifetime. They always wanted to get better and they never let up, night in and night out," Katovich said. "We've talked a lot about Kobe and the way he approached the game.

"I read something where he was saying that when he was 13, he made a conscious decision to be the hardest working player on his team. He knew he had talent, but he didn't want to just rely on that. He wanted to work every day as if he was the 12th best player on the team and by the end of every day, he wanted to make sure he worked so hard that 'every drop of juice had been squeezed from the orange.' I use that quote a lot with the kids."

• Joe Aguilar, Patricia Babcock McGraw and John Leusch contributed to this story.

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