Bryant, Russell Forge Early Connection
HONOLULU — On his first day of official NBA practice, D’Angelo Russell found himself reverting back to the fan mentality he had before becoming the second overall pick in this year’s draft when he wound up next to Kobe Bryant during a drill on the first day of training camp.
In his own thoughts, the 19-year-old reacted like most people his age would.
“You try to keep it off your mind, like ,’This guy is not running beside you doing a three-man drill,’” Russell said. “But it’s something you’ve got to get past. If you want to be the best you can be, you’ve got to look at him as a mentor — not look at him as a fan.”
Now that the two are teammates, Russell doesn’t Bryant through same the lens of his “Mamba Army.” Instead, the rookie’s view is a unique one: under Bryant’s wing.
After that first session on Tuesday, head coach Byron Scott pointed out that Bryant had repeatedly taken Russell aside during practice to offer up a bit of advice. The five-time champion acknowledged Russell’s passion for the game, which Bryant has continuously talked about over the years from his own perspective.
“(Russell) loves the game,” Bryant said. “When you have a player that really loves the game it’s my responsibility to make sure he never loses sight of it in the difficult moments — even in the great moments. Always just focus on the love of the game. Once you have that, you’ll problem solve everything. It’s my job to really keep him locked in.”
Meanwhile, Russell recognizes that such compliments from a player like Bryant — one whose passion has been documented consistently for the past two decades — aren’t often handed out.
“Those are high words,” Russell said. “I feel like a lot of guys have that one inspiration off the court that keeps them going. Mine is just being on the court. I get the opportunity to be blessed to play every day. I really take those strong words into consideration and just keep working.”
Now Russell has the opportunity to learn from a man whose passion has fueled his drive for the last 20 years in the NBA. Bryant, who was lifting at the University of Hawaii’s student recreation center well before Wednesday’s practice, shares that view on basketball and work ethic with the teenager from Louisville.
“You’re getting paid to do something you love,” Russell said. “Not a lot of guys get to dream of something when they’re young and then make it a reality.”