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Jemarl Baker, Arizona Wildcats plan to honor Kobe Bryant

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Arizona Jacob Snow-USA TODAY Sports

Like millions of others, Arizona Wildcats guard Jemarl Baker Jr. was devastated by the news of the death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, who were killed in a helicopter crash early Sunday morning.

“It’s been a hard couple days for me for sure,” Baker said Tuesday, two days after Bryant’s death. “Just growing up in LA until I was nine years old and then moving to Menifee, he was my favorite player, my idol. Watching him every other night on TV, how determined he was to win, I don’t want to say he inspired me to play basketball but he definitely inspired me to want to be great. And I think watching him has helped me get to where I am now. And so it’s definitely hurt me for sure.”

Baker couldn’t pinpoint his favorite Kobe memory. There were too many to count.

“He had a lot of great moments,” Baker said. “I only saw him play once in a preseason game when I was little, so I didn’t really have the opportunity to really go see him play in person but just watching him on TV every night and watching the moves he was doing and shooting socks in the hamper, practicing the moves and stuff like that...so I mean it’s just definitely been a hard few days.”

Baker and some of his Arizona teammates, maybe all of them, plan to honor Bryant in Thursday’s game at Washington by wearing a version of his shoes, the Kobe 5s.

“Just honoring him in any way we can for sure,” Baker said.

Arizona head coach Sean Miller said Bryant’s death is “beyond tragic, beyond disheartening.” Bryant once played against Miller’s younger brother Archie at a basketball tournament in Pennsylvania.

“First when you get the news, you just think of how alive he is, how talented he is,” Miller said. “You almost can’t imagine that he’s no longer here. And when you throw in his daughter was on the plane and then seven other people, it’s beyond tragic. I mean, it just ruins your entire day and spirit.”

Miller said spoke with his team Monday about Bryant and the impact he made on the world, not just as a player but as a person as well.

“One of the things that is just amazing is just how the world is taking notice of his passing and his daughter,” Miller said. “You see what sports means to the world. I know Kobe transcends sports because his mental approach to winning, how competitive he was, the fact that he played for 20 years. And then the other part is what he started to do when basketball ended. It was almost like his beginning of a new chapter of greatness was just unfolding, you know. But God it’s hard and it’s affected a lot of people. And to say that we’re all thinking about his wife and his family would be a big understatement.

“It’s a really amazing loss in the world of sports, and it is the world of sports. You saw that it didn’t just affect our country but people all over the world. You see these soccer players and NFL players paying tribute to him. You see how much of an impact his life had on others.”