The shocking news that NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year old daughter and seven others had been killed in a helicopter crash was breaking just as the Ohio State basketball team was planning to depart for a shoot-around before Sunday night's game at Northwestern. As the Big Ten Network reported during the telecast, coach Chris Holtmann, seeing how his players were affected, chose to skip the shoot around and instead, had a team meeting and let his players digest the news. Bryant, idolized by countless college basketball players, had a more personal relationship with Buckeye sophomore guard Duane Washington. Washington's uncle is Derek Fisher, a Los Angeles Lakers teammate of Bryant's for parts of 12 seasons. Washington got to meet Bryant multiple times so the news of Kobe's death hit him harder than most.
Washington paid tribute to Bryant with a message on his shoes and as Adam Jardy of the Dispatch wrote in the above attached story, played Sunday night with a heavy heart.
"I didn’t believe it was real at first," Washington told The Dispatch. "It's Kobe Bryant, man. I looked up to him as a role model. It's just heartbreaking to have an unfortunate accident like that."
Washington and the Buckeyes put the basketball tragedy aside for two hours and got a much needed win, downing Northwestern 71-59. The Buckeye bench had a huge impact, outscoring the starters 39-32. Freshman D.J. Carton led the bench brigade with 17, Justin Ahrens hit four key 3-pointers, two in each half, for 12 points and Washington chipped in with 8. Washington and Carton, in fact, teamed up on the single most impressive play of the night.
Washington's alley oop to Carton built the Buckeye lead to eight. They would go on to win by 12 and improve to 13-7 overall and 3-6 in the Big Ten.
While the Buckeyes in general, and Washington in particular were grieving Bryant's death, the same was true of Northwestern. Head coach Chris Collins had a personal relationship with Bryant that dated back to his childhood. In his emotional post-game press conference, Collins said that his father and Kobe's dad, were NBA teammates in Philadelphia, so dating back to his youth, the two knew each other. Their relationship grew as adults, when Collins served on the USA basketball staff when Bryant and Team USA won Olympic Gold Medals in 2008 and 2012. You can check out Collins emotional comments after the game here.