Ohio State freshman guard Kierstan Bell (24) shoots a layup during the game against UConn Nov. 24. Ohio State lost 62-73. Credit: Meghan Carroll | Lantern Reporter

On Jan. 26 Kierstan Bell was playing a game of pick-up basketball with her friends when she heard the news. NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others had died in a helicopter accident in California. 

The Ohio State freshman guard dons Bryant’s number, 24, in honor of the NBA icon. 

“Everybody thinks I play like Lebron, so they’d tell me, ‘I’m surprised you’re not 23,’ and I’d tell them, ‘I could have 23, but I’d rather have 24,’” Bell said.

Bryant was not only an NBA icon, but he was a major proponent for the advancement of women’s sports. He was a well-known advocate for the WNBA, coached his daughter’s team, the Lady Mavericks, and inspired several players on the Ohio State women’s basketball team. 

Bryant was on his way to the Mamba Sports Academy for one of Gianna’s games when the helicopter crashed.

“We lost an amazing ambassador for [women’s basketball],” Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff said. “I think he was really helping move our game forward.”

Days before his death, Kobe told CNN some current WNBA players could be capable of competing in the NBA. He mentioned players such as Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi, Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne and Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore as players who could compete in the men’s game. 

“He was one of the NBA players who really cared about women’s basketball,” Bell said. “He was reaching out to girls and mentoring them.” 

It was Gianna who revived Bryant’s love for the sport, he told former NBA players Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes on their “All the Smoke” podcast, released Jan. 9. He said he stopped watching the NBA post-retirement, but Gianna sucked him back in through her love of the sport and drive to grow as a player. 

Sophomore guard Janai Crooms said she recently watched a video of Bryant and Gianna at a UConn women’s basketball game. In the video interview with SNY, Bryant said basketball had become a “true passion,” of Gianna’s.

“That really touched me because she really wanted to fill in her dad’s shoes and just keep the legacy going,” Crooms said.

McGuff said it was “incredible” to watch Bryant evolve as a coach and parent following his career.

Bryant affected Ohio State women’s basketball in more ways than one. Many players on the team took direct inspiration from the former Los Angeles Lakers guard. 

He coined the term “Mamba Mentality,” which expressed the idea of working toward a goal by getting better each day. 

“His work ethic played a really big role for not even just athletes, but a lot of human beings in the world,” Crooms said. “Just seeing someone with that work ethic is really inspiring.”

The Mamba Mentality was on full display in McGuff and Bell’s favorite Kobe moment, when he tore his Achilles tendon and made two game-tying free throws right after. 

“That [play] just encapsulates everything you need to know about him as a basketball player,” McGuff said. 

Crooms’ favorite moment came when Kobe put up 60 points on the Utah Jazz in the final game of his career. 

“I watched it on ESPN the other night when they replayed it,” Crooms said. “He was really amazing that night.” 

Bryant brought many people together during his career, not just in Los Angeles. Bell recalled the times she watched him with her stepfather as a kid. 

The Buckeyes will look to honor Bryant with their play on the court as they come down the final stretch of the season.

“I’ll definitely have him on my mind when I’m playing,” Bell said.