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Kobe Bryant's high school basketball coach remembers the late NBA legend

High school coach remembers Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant's high school basketball coach remembered the late NBA legend at a news conference Tuesday, two days after the 41-year-old was killed in a helicopter crash in the Los Angeles area. 

Gregg Downer, who still coaches at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, told reporters he wasn't sure he could get through a game after learning of Bryant's death, but that he "found some strength ... and I think it's coming from him."

"When I try to think about what Kobe Bryant would want to have happen in a situation like this, I think he would want us to get back to the bouncing ball as quickly as possible," Downer said.

Downer coached Bryant from 1992-1996. Bryant led the high school team to the state championship in 1996 before going straight to the NBA.   

In a statement this week, Downer called Bryant his hero, CBS Philly reports.

"I'm glad that hero remark is out. It's accurate," Downer said at the press conference Tuesday. "And I fully believe that a lot of little kids lost their hero."

Gregg Downer via CBS Philadelphia

Downer said Bryant was in middle school when they met. Recognizing his talent, Downer asked the 6' 2" 14-year-old to practice with the school's varsity team. 

"Five minutes into that first varsity practice I turned to one of my assistant coaches and said 'this kid is a pro.'"

Downer said he knew right away that he was in for a "ride of a lifetime" with Bryant. 

The two remained close after Bryant turned pro. Downer was even going to coach Gianna Bryant, Kobe's 13-year-old daughter who also died in the helicopter crash.

"Gianna was turning into such a great player. ... There was chatter that I was going to work her out this summer," Downer said. "I never got a chance to do that, sadly."

In his statement earlier this week, Downer called Bryant a "phenomenal athlete" but said he was "an even better father."

"It is not often in life you see pure greatness. I was lucky enough to have a front row seat to it for four years. He pushed me as a coach to be better and I pushed him right back. It was a beautiful, winning combination for which I will forever be grateful," Downer added.

"Never have I witnessed such passion, work ethic, and intensity — such a unique and purposeful drive for greatness," Downer said in his statement.

"Kobe set the standard," he said. "He was our superman."

The school said in a statement that Bryant's connection to Lower Merion High School raised its profile worldwide.

"Our school community will always be grateful for his ongoing generosity to his alma mater, including his dedication of our Kobe Bryant Gymnasium and his support of our boys' and girls' basketball teams," it said.

"I think the landscape would be very different if we never had Kobe Bryant," Downer said Tuesday.

"He taught us how to win, he taught us how to work hard, he taught us how not to take shortcuts, and once we started having success with Kobe the bar got very high."

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