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Montana Lady Griz react to the passing of basketball legend Kobe Bryant

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Posted at 8:34 PM, Jan 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-28 11:30:36-05

MISSOULA -- The sports world was stunned and shattered in a rare way on Sunday afternoon with the news that NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others passed away in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.

Time seemed to stand still while fans grieved and many dealt with the loss of a man they might not have met but impacted them in ways they will never forget.

Bryant will undoubtedly be remembered as the 18-time NBA all-star, five-time NBA champion and league MVP he was during his career with the Los Angeles Lakers. Up until Saturday evening, he was the NBA's third-highest scoring player until current Laker and good friend LeBron James passed him on that list.

But another area where Bryant's passion for the game came through was his advocacy for the WNBA and women's basketball. A father of four daughters, Bryant was often seen on video endorsing his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who passed away with him, as one who would follow in his basketball footsteps in carving out a successful career in the women's league.

On Monday, San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon said Bryant, "was just beginning to be that voice for so many women that maybe didn’t have a strong voice or as big or as loud or carried as much weight as his did and still does. The women’s game lost a real advocate and someone who truly believed that women can do anything.”

At his core, Bryant was a fan and was often seen at WNBA and women's college basketball games spectating while also spending time coaching his daughter's AAU team. He saw the women's game as equally as important as the men's, treating basketball as one whole platform rather than separating the two.

And that impact he had both on the court and off had an effect even in the Garden City for members of the Montana Lady Griz basketball team.

"I was a huge Kobe fan," Lady Griz senior guard Taylor Goligoski said. "He’s such a fierce competitor and I really looked up to him, idolized him. Had his jerseys when I was little, bought his shoes almost every year, so yeah, it was very shocking and definitely sad news."

Goligoski said head coach Shannon Schweyen was the one who broke the news to her about Bryant's passing.

"I thought it was a joke," Goligoski explained. "I was like, 'Kobe Bryant? Like Kobe, Kobe?' It didn't seem real to me."

Goligoski said Bryant shooting two free throws on a torn Achilles back in 2013 was the memory that stood out to her.

"I always think 'Mamba Mentality,'" she said with a big grin, a saying that quickly became Bryant's motto.

For fellow senior and forward Emma Stockholm, her favorite Bryant memory is not so much a specific moment, but a trademark Bryant used in games.

"Just his OG step-back (jump shot)," she said with a laugh. "That always sinks in my mind every time I think about him. Maybe I’ll pull that out Thursday (against Portland State), who knows?"

Stockholm, a fellow Bryant fan, said hearing news of the tragedy wasn't easy knowing how many people would be affected by it.

"I was devastated and my heart dropped to my stomach knowing that one of the greatest of all-time in basketball is gone," Stockholm said. "His daughter, that family, those coaches that were with them, it just breaks my heart. We're going to play for them on Thursday and Saturday (against Montana State). We'll play for Kobe.

"He was a huge advocate for women’s basketball and always showing up at the WNBA supporting women’s basketball. I hope that more people can follow what he was going to do, and it's really important for women's basketball. He'll always be an important role for that."

Schweyen shared similar sentiments as her players, but also from the perspective of a mother and spouse, and empathized with the remaining members of the Bryant family.

"Obviously, so sad for the family. As a mother of daughters I can’t imagine losing your spouse, let alone your spouse and a child at the same time," Schweyen said. "Kobe had been out in the women’s basketball circuit quite a bit with his daughter playing on the Mamba team and been at the AAU tournaments, and that was a big buzz, how involved he was in his daughters' upbringing in basketball. And so it was just heartbreaking to know he won’t be around to help that grow anymore, and it breaks my heart for all of those families involved.

"There's a lot of NBA players who don't get their feet in the women's game at all and you'd often see him at the UConn games or sitting at a lot of WNBA games and was really starting to get involved in AAU, so that was always exciting to see a player like that take interest in women's basketball. So, that will be sorely missed and hopefully there will be some other people who will step up and begin to get a little more involved in his namesake."