After Thunder win, team reflects on Bryant's death

By Cassidy Thornburg

After the Wheaton women’s basketball team defeated Millikin University 74-61 on Wednesday, sophomore Hannah Swider remembered the life of Kobe Bryant as an inspiration to her own growth as a member of the team. “I spend a lot of time in the gym working on my game, trying to be like Kobe,” she said, “and it has been paying off, thanks to God.”

Bryant, who spent 20 years playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, died in a nine-person helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif. on Sunday. His 13-year old daughter, Gianna, also died in the crash.

He was the father of four daughters: Natalia, Gianna, Bianka and Capri Kobe Bryant (born last June). After his retirement from the NBA, Bryant could be found courtside at Lakers games with his daughter Gianna as they analyzed the game together.

Wheaton’s women’s basketball coach Kent Madsen is familiar with the experience of sitting next to his daughter at a basketball game. He has a daughter on the Wheaton team, senior guard Kirsten Madsen. Following the terrible news Sunday, Madsen decided to address the team at large.

“I mentioned the helicopter crash from the perspective of a parent,” Coach Madsen said. “You had three young girls going to play the game they loved — basketball. All three had at least one or both parents with them. My players have all had that experience — going to a basketball game with parents. I just mentioned how I have at times taken that privilege and opportunity for granted. It is a joyful experience for a parent to take their daughter to a game both because a parent gets to see their child doing something they love and it provides them time to just talk. Opportunities for spending time talking with our children is a luxury these days that we should not take for granted.”

When the first report by TMZ came out, nobody believed the news. “Sports is not always fun,” one of my coworkers at NBC Sports Chicago, where I am an intern, said as we sat in stunned silence. “Is TMZ blue check certified?” someone asked, convinced that the 41-year-old’s death couldn’t be true.

Bryant was a five-time NBA champion, the 1997 national slam dunk contest winner, the youngest all-star in NBA history at age 18 and the 2007- 08 NBA season’s MVP. His impact on the court gave him influence off of it as well. He taught us about more than just basketball. He taught us how to be a teammate and a fierce competitor. The night before he died, he was at Staples Center to celebrate with Lebron James, as the Laker star passed Bryant on the NBA scoring list.

In the last two quarters of the Millikin game, Swider hit back-to-back three’s—one to close out the third quarter and the other to kick-start the fourth. Several records were set during the game. Jordan Myroth became the fourth player in the team’s history to have 400 career assists, and with 1,318 points, Hannah Frazier moved up to sixth place on Wheaton’s career scoring list. She also now holds the record for the fifth-most career blocked shots, with 175.

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