College coach Geno Auriemma remembers Gianna Bryant's excitement to visit UConn

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Monday, February 24, 2020
Geno Auriemma speaks during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020, in Los Angeles, California.
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LOS ANGELES -- During Monday's celebration of life honoring Kobe and Gianna Bryant, University of Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma described to the Staples Center audience the excitement that 13-year-old Gianna showed while visiting UConn, where she had hoped to one day play basketball.

"I remember the very first game she came to, and she came into the locker room," Auriemma recalled. "Here she is, and the look on her face -- the smile, the way her eyes just took everything in, how excited she was to be around, in her mind, royalty."

"It's ironic," he said. "Her father is royalty, and she's excited to be around royalty that looks just like what she wants to be."

He continued: "The most impressive thing about that point in time was how Kobe stepped as far back as he could so anybody taking pictures, anybody there would not know that this was Kobe Bryant's daughter. This was her moment. This was her time to shine. This was her time to experience all the things that he's experienced his whole life. He was being dad. He wasn't being Kobe Bryant."

"In today's day and age, that's a hell of a thing for parents to be able to do," Auriemma added.

Bryant and Gianna were killed along with seven others in a helicopter crash last month while they headed to a basketball tournament that the teen was going to play in.

The memorial event began with a performance by Beyonce. Bryant's widow, Vanessa, brought tears to people's eyes as she spoke, giving an intimate portrait of her husband and daughter.

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Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Bryant attend a basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Atlanta Hawks at Staples Center on November 17, 2019 in Los Angeles.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.