Junior Camacho was raised as a die-hard Lakers fan; as a kid, he sat on the couch with his dad and watched every game, paying special attention to Kobe Bryant.
When Camacho wasn’t watching the games, he was outside mimicking Bryant’s signature moves to the best of his 5-year-old body’s ability.
On Sunday, Camacho saw Bryant on TV once again, but this time his emotions were much different.
“I broke down and started crying,” said Camacho, who plays basketball for Valencia High School.
Kobe Bryant and several other people, including his daughter Gianna, died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas on Sunday morning. Bryant was 41 and his daughter was 13.
The Santa Clarita Valley prep basketball community, along with the basketball community as a whole, is grieving the loss. Some coaches, like Saugus boys coach Alfredo Manzano, were too emotional to speak when contacted for interview.
“His mentality was just great,” Camacho said. “I loved his work ethic and he never backed down. Even if something bad happened, he fought through it and kept going … I worked on the same moves just to be like him and try to get the same work ethic.”
Vikings coach Bill Bedgood sent a group text message to his team as soon as he heard of Bryant’s death. Growing up, Bedgood watched Michael Jordan and recognized the similar role that Bryant took on for his players.
“For the generation of players I coach, it’s been Kobe,” Bedgood said. “Kobe was that huge star that everybody wanted to shoot like and play like and be like. When he changed his number from 8 to 24 guys were so excited because they could wear his number on a high school team.”
Golden Valley girls basketball coach Sixx Johnson had the opportunity to play basketball against Bryant, who had freshly moved to L.A., at Balboa Park when they were both 17 years old.
Although his NBA career wasn’t full-fledged quite yet, Johnson got to experience Bryant’s competitive nature firsthand.
“He was really confident, you could see it then,” Johnson said. “He was on another level. He walked around with that chip on his shoulder and you knew he was a competitor. You could tell he was always about business and wanted to dominate anyone who was in front of him in the court.”
Johnson also admired what Bryant was beginning to do for the prep basketball community, whether it was coaching Gianna’s team or opening Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks.
“Just being a fan of sports and the fan of fathers in their kids’ lives,” Johnson said, “I thought that was huge to have that facility fairly locally. It was huge what he was doing for the sport. It was going to get even bigger as time went on … It just sucks that we had to miss out on such a promising first phase of (Gianna’s) life and second phase of Kobe’s life.”
Hart boys basketball’s Ty Penberthy had the opportunity to work out at the Mamba Sports Academy every day this summer and said that it was a pristine facility that Bryant had worked had to develop.
Penberthy’s father, Mike, was a teammate of Bryant’s on the Lakers. Penberthy had a few interactions with Bryant growing up and head stories from Mike about his competitiveness.
“Tons of stories of him in practice just competing and going at it and he did everything he could to win,” Penberthy said. “On the court, he was a competitive and off the court he was a great guy.”
Camacho will never see Bryant on live television again. He’ll never see his vision for prep basketball come to fruition. But he’ll also never be able to shed the work ethic and skills that were inspired by his idol.