Lady Jags remember Kobe Bryant

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On January 26, Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash that claimed the lives of eight others, including his daughter, Gigi Bryant, in Calabasas, California.

For someone like Holly Hoopingarner, who grew up watching Bryant dominate the game, this news came as a shock, almost as something unreal.

“My initial reaction was that that’s got to be a fake news type of thing,” Hoopingarner said. “I was just in shock that something so tragic could happen.”

Hoopingarner, one of the team leaders on an IUPUI squad that is leading the Horizon League, is having a solid season. Over 26 games played, she is averaging 9.5 points per game to go along with 3.9 assists and 2.9 rebounds.

The brand of basketball that Hoopingarner plays is modeled in part after Bryant’s game. Although she lives by the pull-up jumper, her attention to detail comes from observing how Bryant prepared for games. The little things she devotes her time to, right down to her foot placement, comes from Bryant.

“Kobe cared about every single little detail,” Hoopingarner said. “That’s something that I’ve always tried to put emphasis on in my game.”

An aspect of life that Bryant put emphasis on, especially after retiring, was the world of women’s sports. Oftentimes, Bryant could be found voicing his support of the WNBA. In 2018, he founded the Mamba Sports Academy, where Gigi played via the youth program, which is dedicated to helping both boys and girls reach their potential.

To Hoopingarner and teammate Natalie Andersen, the fact the Bryant was so vocal in support of women’s sports added to the crushing blow of losing him.

“Obviously, he had daughters who were involved in sports,” Hoopingarner said. “It’s a huge loss as far as how outspoken he was for supporting the women’s side.”

“It’s crazy the impact he’s had, not only on the basketball world, but the stuff he’s done outside of that after his career was over,” Andersen said. “You don’t necessarily need to know someone personally to be impacted by their passing.”

Andersen has been a great asset at guard for the Lady Jags this year, given that she is only a freshman. She is averaging 7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1 assist per game through 26 games. She too has modeled part of her game after Bryant. In fact, the number she wears on her back is 24. She has worn it for her hero and will continue to wear it in his honor.

Although Anderson is younger than many of her teammates, she still remembers the majority of Bryant’s career. His final game in the NBA stands out to her. She, like so many others, marveled at his exit from the game, in which he scored a total of 60 points, with 23 coming in the fourth quarter, helping his Lakers pull off a comeback win.

Hoopingarner also has fond memories of Bryant’s career. She and her father were in attendance for Bryant’s final game in Indianapolis in February 2016. Although the Pacers won the game, Bryant scored 19 points, with 11 coming in the final quarter.

Hoopingarner watched Bryant score 81 in a game against the Toronto Raptors in January 2006. She watched as Bryant knocked down shot after shot, some of which other NBA players wouldn’t have dared to take.

“In my opinion, he is our generation’s Michael Jordan because we’re too young to have watched Michael play throughout his career, but I remember every day, every game, watching Kobe,” Hoopingarner said.

Lady Jags head coach Austin Parkinson had an intense reaction to the news of Bryant’s passing, given that he has a 3-year-old daughter of his own.

“As a father, you want to be able to protect your child,” Parkinson said. “To not be able to that, but at the same time be with them, I think the idea of them being in a better place, together, is somewhat of a solace for what’s an awful situation.”

Parkinson has led the Lady Jags to an impressive 19-7 record, with a 13-2 record in Horizon League play. Dating back to December 30 of last year, the Lady Jags are 13-1. The sole loss during that stretch came against Northern Kentucky on February 15. They Lady Jags will look to bounce back from the loss by grabbing a win against Milwaukee on February 21.

The Lady Jags recently sealed the top seed in the Horizon League Tournament, which begins on March 3. The final two rounds of the tournament will be played at Indiana Farmer’s Coliseum right here in Indianapolis.

When reflecting on what Kobe means to her, Hoopingarner remembers the legacy of the Mamba Mentality. Although she has been on a bit of a slump as of late, scoring a total of 40 points while only making 26.8% of her shots, she will channel the Mamba Mentality in the upcoming Horizon League Tournament.

“You don’t let the fear of failure hold you back from doing anything, whether it’s taking the game winning shot, even if you missed twenty shots,” Hoopingarner said. “You’re gonna take the next one because you think the next one’s going in.”

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