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Jeff Capel on Kobe Bryant: ‘It’s Like a Superhero Dying’ for Current Players



PITTSBURGH — Basketball legend Kobe Bryant died yesterday in a helicopter crash at the age of 41. His daughter and seven other passengers were also killed in the crash in Calabasas, California, on Sunday morning.

Bryant spent his entire 20-year career suiting up for just one franchise – the Los Angeles Lakers. He is remembered for his accolades during his NBA career, being an incredible father to his four daughters, and his extraordinary drive to be great and outwork everyone at the game of basketball.

On Jan. 18, Pitt basketball coach Jeff Capel talked about the significant difference between ‘good and great’ individual players and programs after his team’s win at home against North Carolina.

“The way [great players] think is different, the way they approach stuff is different,” Capel said. “The guys that are really great, they’re constantly trying to learn and get better, they’re constantly trying to figure out different ways to beat you, different ways to improve in their craft.”

“That’s why I think [there’s a] few great.”

Bryant was one of those few, in just about everyone’s mind. And this especially hits home for this generation of basketball players and athletes of all sports.

“It’s been tough for them,” Capel said about his players coping with the news. “These young guys, like they admired him so much, 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. Like, Kobe was one of these guys that seemed invincible.”

He was this generation’s Michael Jordan, so much so that kids started to wear No. 24 instead of No. 23. Pitt has one of those ‘Kobe guys’ on its roster.

That’s junior guard Ryan Murphy, whose hometown is Calabasas, California. Murphy grew up a massive Lakers and Bryant fan and wore 24 in Bryant’s honor.

Capel said Monday that he has talked and listened to Murphy personally about the heart-breaking news but knows that all of his players are taking it hard.

“We have several guys that have taken it pretty hard,” Capel said.

Capel, 44, remembers how special Bryant was back in his high school and early NBA days when a lot of his current players weren’t even born. Capel also had a relationship throughout the years through his time helping with USA Basketball alongside his mentor, Coach K.

Yes, Capel admired Bryant for his godly on-court talents and the passion in which he practiced and played each day. But what comes to Capel’s mind, as he thinks about what has transpired in the last day and a half, is something non-basketball related.

“Everybody knows about his work ethic and all of those things,” Capel said. “[What’s] really amazing to me is to watch him post-basketball and to watch him with his family and his daughters and seeing the kind of softer side.

“As a guy that has daughters or has young kids – my oldest is 12. My kids travel with me to recruit sometimes. … So, it hits close to home, when you think about it that way.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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