When the news came out last Sunday morning that former NBA legend Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash, Wichita State Men’s Golf Head Coach Judd Easterling was in shock, just like the rest of the sporting world. He hoped desperately that TMZ’s report wasn’t true.
Easterling said he was in “complete shock.”
“I saw it on Twitter and was just hoping it was misreported,” Easterling said in a phone interview with The Sunflower. “I’m an average NBA fan, big college basketball guy, but I was just a Kobe fan. I loved his work ethic, passion, and his competitiveness.”
On Monday, Easterling met with his team to discuss Bryant’s impact on sports even after his retirement. He became much more involved in women’s basketball, sitting sideline with his daughter, Gianna, who also died in the helicopter crash.
“I talked to the guys about it on Monday. He was just the elite of the elite,” Easterling said. “I think the cool thing was, he had such an incredible NBA career and then he kind of went into a little shell when he retired, and then he started to come out of that shell, showing up at basketball games with his daughter. He’s given so much back to the basketball community. He was going to do incredible things.”
Easterling said Bryant’s preparedness and competitiveness were the hallmarks of his game. During Monday’s meeting, Easterling showed his team clips of Bryant that showcased these qualities.
“I showed them a couple of clips of interviews that I found off social media and his preparation and his competitiveness and the way he practiced was the reason why he was so great,” Easterling said. “The practices that he was a part of, he tried to make them as hard or harder than a game. So just like he says, when you’re in game seven of the NBA Finals, it’s like nothing, because you’ve practiced so hard.”
Bryant was notorious for challenging his teammates to get the best out of them.
“He was always going to demand the best out of you. If you showed up to practice and weren’t giving 100%, he was going to call you out — he was going to embarrass you in front of everybody,” Easterling said. “That’s what I was kind of telling the team — how competitive he was, he never missed a day, and he was doing everything he possibly could to be great.”
Easterling said that even though his team finds themselves stuck indoors quite often this time of year, they still have to make the most of every single practice.
“Like today (Wednesday,) we had a great two-hour practice, he said. “We were indoors the entire time, but we got everything we could out of two hours. So if it’s one o’clock and practice starts at 1, it’s time to go.”
Easterling said he hopes that by analyzing Bryant’s legacy, his team will recognize and learn from the focus and hard work he put into perfecting his craft.
“We’re going to work as hard as we can, pay attention to detail. The guys are going to present, the guys are going to be prepared, and we are going to get everything we can out of every day,” Easterling said. “When Friday comes around and we start qualifying, hopefully, every kid — all eight of my guys — have done everything they can to be as completely prepared as they possibly can be to be ready to play.”
WSU will get their spring season underway on Feb. 15 at the two-day Florida Gator Invitational in Gainesville, Florida.