Kobe Bryant's high school basketball coach reflects on his former star

ARDMORE, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Coach Gregg Downer, Lower Merion High School's boy's basketball coach, addressed the media on Tuesday to talk about his time coaching Kobe Bryant from 1992 to 1996.

Downer said over the past 48 hours, every time he drove into the school he saw people holding flowers, coming to remember Bryant.

He said Bryant gave a lot of students hope to dream big, and he's devastated by the loss.

Downer said he heard about the helicopter crash, that killed Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, and 7 others, at his home on Sunday.

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ABC's Romina Puga has the latest on the fatal helicopter crash in California.



"I broke down in the middle of my kitchen," Downer said.

Downer said he knew Bryant's parents well.

"I definitely want to get in touch with Joe and Pam," Downer said.

A former classmate of Bryant's shared a yearbook photo of Bryant and his sisters, recalling the time she spent with them at their home.

"I remember being in his house once in Wynnewood," said Dani Denardo, class of '94. "Such a great guy, the family was amazing, amazingly, warm," Denardo said.

Nine people, including Kobe Bryant, were killed when a helicopter crashed in southern California.



Another classmate recalled how much students admired Bryant for his athleticism, but also for his personality off the court.

"We actually had gym class together, I was a junior, he was a freshman, so just a great guy, very humble, just fun to be around," said Scott Hockfield, class of '94.

That same tone was echoed by a former teammate of Bryant's who now helps coach the boy's basketball team at the high school.

"He was funny, he was mischievous, he was detail-oriented," said Doug Young, class of '94.

Coach Downer said he's finding the strength to continue to coach the current boy's basketball team from wearing Bryant's number 33 warmup jacket.

"It means the world to be in a jacket like this," said Downer. "Number 33, it gives me power."

Downer said he pulled Bryant's 33 practice jacket out of a storage closet after 24 years.

"That's an eerie thought," said Downer, since Kobe wore number 24 when he played for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Downer said it wasn't until Bryant died that he realized how much Bryant had impacted him both personally and professionally.

"A lot of little kids lost their hero, and a grown man called Coach Downer lost his also," said Downer.

Downer said he hopes Saturday's boy's basketball home game can be called, "Kobe Bryant Day," but the administration and athletic department are still looking into it.

He also plans to go out west for the tributes that are happening there for Bryant, but he's hoping to have a vigil in Lower Merion Township where people can pay their respects locally.
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