A visit from Kobe Bryant gave Gonzaga the ‘Mamba Mindset’ ahead of the Final Four.
GLENDALE — Gonzaga players were in a bad mood on their first night in Arizona ahead of the Final Four. Head coach Mark Few had gathered the team for a late night film session three days before the ‘Zags would take on South Carolina.
Couldn’t this wait for the morning? Wouldn’t it be better for everyone to get some rest?
It only took a few minutes for that frustration to turn into euphoria. Gonzaga wasn’t together to watch film. They were here to meet Kobe Bryant.
Bryant walked into the room unannounced to the shock and awe of the ‘Zags. He was there to impart wisdom before the biggest game of their lives, but first the Gonzaga players needed a moment to settle down. Most of them were completely starstruck.
“Kobe is a god in our eyes,” said LA native Jordan Mathews.
“It was life-changing,” said sophomore forward Jeremy Jones.
Playing for a program sponsored by Nike has its perks and this was one of them. Byrant would also talk to Oregon, with the whole thing set up by the shoe giant.
The theme of Bryant’s pep talk was preparation. He told the ‘Zags the only reason to be nervous before the Final Four is if you weren’t prepared. He talked about the mentality it took to win five NBA championships and gave them tips for watching film.
“The way he answered questions seemed like it was from a point where he wasn’t even playing basketball anymore,” Jones said. “He was playing chess.”
In perhaps the most Kobe move of all, he told the players they had to completely strip away any feelings before taking the court in Glendale.
“It’s not about emotions,” Mathews said when recounting Bryant’s advice. “It’s about tactics.”
Everyone had to make sure they got a picture, too.
— Dylan J. Ennis (@canadiankidDJE) March 30, 2017
“It was crazy. It was surreal,” Jones said. “I don’t think there’s a basketball player that could have walked through that door that could have gave us as good of a feeling.”
For players like Mathews, who grew up idolizing Bryant in Los Angeles, meeting Kobe felt like a dream come true. The same goes for someone who grew up across the globe, like freshman Killian Tillie.
“Everyone knows him,” said the French forward. “To see him in person was amazing.”
For the 19- to 23-year-olds that make up these rosters, there is perhaps no bigger basketball star in existence than Kobe. Jones went all the way in his praise.
“Obviously when we talk about greatest of all-time, to hear someone say Jordan to me is like, ‘how do you know Jordan is the greatest of all-time?,’ Jones said. “We didn’t watch him coming up. All we know is the games we have watched and the clips we have seen.
“I would definitely say Kobe Bryant is the guy of our era. And to me, the greatest player of all time.”
If Gonzaga comes out with a “Mamba mentality” against South Carolina, you’ll know why.