Iowa honors Kobe Bryant with shoes, mentality

Iowa honored Kobe Bryant on Monday by wearing his shoes and utilizing his mindset.


Pete Ruden, Pregame Editor

When Fran McCaffery coached at Notre Dame, he had his eye on a prospect at Lower Merion High School in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

His name was Kobe Bryant.

McCaffery knew Bryant’s father, Joe, as well as the high school standout’s uncle.

He also had a connection with Bryant outside of his family. The two played for Sam Rines, an AAU coach McCaffery described as a Philadelphia basketball legend.

But McCaffery would never receive the chance to coach the young Bryant.

“He’s telling me the story about trying to recruit him,” Iowa guard Connor McCaffery said. “But he also said he’s pretty sure he was never going to get the chance to see him play in college.”

McCaffery was right.

Bryant entered the NBA straight out of high school and won five NBA titles while becoming an 18-time all-star and two-time NBA Finals MVP.

That’s what made Bryant’s death following a helicopter crash on Sunday difficult to process for the Hawkeyes.

Bryant defined basketball for the generation. So, Iowa chose to honor him

The Hawkeyes wore Bryant’s signature Nike shoe during their 68-62 triumph over Wisconsin on Monday, and some wrote “Mamba Mentality” on the sneakers to go the extra mile.

“He’s the epitome of basketball,” Iowa forward Joe Wieskamp said. “He’s the guy that’s the first one in the gym in the morning and the last one to leave at night. Everyone learned his work ethic and how much time and love he had for the game.”

Connor McCaffery came up with the idea to wear the shoes after the team found out about Bryant’s death at a team dinner at Monica’s.

While the Hawkeyes borrowed Bryant’s shoes for the night, they also used his mindset.

Iowa faced an 11-point deficit with under seven minutes remaining in the game. It went on a 22-5 run to close the game, scoring at will and shutting down the Badger offense.

“Dig in, and it turns into a defensive battle,” Connor McCaffery said. “[Bryant] was one of the greatest at locking up the other team’s best player. He was the best. We needed to lock in on that side of the floor tonight.”

Bryant left his impact on the Hawkeyes in different ways. While the older generation had Michael Jordan to look up to, this Iowa team had Bryant.

“I think he touched me personally without me being able to meet him,” said Luka Garza, who led Iowa with 21 points on Monday. “Reading his book, Mamba Mentality, watching a bunch of documentaries on him about his mindset that I try to harness into my game, and with my work ethic, which is something I pride myself on. He’s one of the guys who I say I try to reach toward in terms of how to be like.”

Bryant’s work ethic carried over, as well.

“I came to the gym last night because I couldn’t sleep,” Iowa guard Joe Toussaint said. “So, I came back here and put up a lot of shots. I was getting tired, and I kept shooting. It’s sad just to hear about that news. He’s a big reason why I do what I do and a lot of people do what they do, so I just want to thank him for that.”