Tributes and condolences continued to pour in for fallen Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant on Monday, and among them offering sentiments was the women’s basketball head coach at the University of Mississippi, Bahamian Yolett “Coach Yo” McPhee-McCuin. Coming up as a player through high school and on to college, McPhee-McCuin said she was a fan of Bryant, wanting to be like him.
Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, were among nine who died from a helicopter crash just outside of Calabasas, California, on Sunday – about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. They were en route to a girls basketball game during a youth tournament at the Mamba Sports Academy, in Thousand Oaks, California. Bryant was set to coach the game and Gianna was preparing to play. Initial reports are citing bad weather and poor visibility as likely causes for the accident as a dense fog hovered over Southern California on Sunday morning.
As for McPhee-McCuin, during her playing days, she was a point guard for the Catholic High Crusaders in Freeport, Grand Bahama, before moving on to Miami Dade Community College and then to the University of Rhode Island. After her playing days, she moved into scouting and coaching. She landed her first National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I job with the Jacksonville University Dolphins in 2013, and now she is in her second year with the Ole Miss Lady Rebels in the tough Southeastern Conference (SEC).
Growing up a Lakers fan, McPhee-McCuin said she admired Bryant. For her, it’s hard to fathom that he is actually gone. Also, being a mother of two young girls, she said she’s devastated to know that Bryant’s daughter perished with him, particularly because she cannot possibly imagine life without either of her two girls. She said her heart goes out to his wife Vanessa, his other daughters, and to the remainder of his family and friends.
“I grew up in the (Michael) Jordan era, and then Kobe came along. I wanted to be Kobe. Everybody wanted to be Kobe. It’s surreal,” McPhee-McCuin told the Oxford Eagle – a daily newspaper covering news, sports and community affairs in Oxford, Mississippi. “That was tough. Really, I think if I were to elaborate more on his impact on the game, not just for the men’s side, but having a daughter, there were no words to expect the feelings that we all had.”
McPhee-McCuin herself is in the midst of a trying season. Her Ole Miss Lady Rebels have dropped seven games in a row and 11 of their last 13. Just recently, they released Bahamian guard Valerie Nesbitt who up to the time of the release, was having a promising season for the Lady Rebels. Overall, the Lady Rebels have a 7-13 win-loss record, and are still winless in SEC play at 0-7. Nesbitt was second on the team in scoring and led the team and the SEC in steals up to her release, and since dropping her, the Lady Rebels have lost five in a row. They were rocked by in-state rival Mississippi State, 80-39, in Starkville, Mississippi, on Sunday, and it doesn’t get any easier for them with the number one team in the nation, the South Carolina Gamecocks, coming to Oxford on Thursday.
McPhee-McCuin and the Lady Rebels will host the Gamecocks at the Pavilion in Oxford at 8 p.m. on Thursday evening.
After Sunday’s loss, basketball wasn’t the foremost concern on McPhee-McCuin’s mind though. She came to the podium for the post-game press conference with youngest daughter Yuri in tow. For McPhee-McCuin, the moment was more about expressing herself about life than what had just happened on the basketball court.
“Time is precious,” she said. “We sit around and take advantage of moments in which we could be around our family. That was a wake-up call for everybody. Hug your loved ones and keep things in perspective.”
The horrific helicopter crash came just hours before the Lady Rebels game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Sunday.
Bryant is regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of the National Basketball Association (NBA) having won five NBA titles with the Lakers, two NBA Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP) Awards and a league MVP award along with many other accolades and honors over a 20-year career.
His work on the court and his life transcended basketball. Bryant won an Oscar for his work with the animated short film ‘Dear Basketball’, was an advocate for the women’s game which was evident through his many appearances at Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) games with Gianna, won two Olympic gold medals, and was transitioning into a life of business and entrepreneurship post basketball, and being more of a father figure to his four daughters.
He was one of the first players to ever make the jump straight from high school straight to the NBA, having been drafted by the Charlotte Hornets out of Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1996, and traded to the Lakers on draft night where he played his entire 20-year NBA career.
He is fourth on the all-time scoring list with 33,643 points, giving way to overall leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), Karl Malone (36,928) and LeBron James (33,655) who just passed him on Saturday.
As news spread yesterday of the victims who were involved in the fatal crash on Sunday, it was learnt that a family of three – father, mother and daughter – an assistant girls basketball coach at the Mamba Sports Academy, a mother and daughter tandem and the pilot himself, also perished.
May their souls rest in peace.