You may think there was no connection between Notre Dame and NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who passed away Sunday in a helicopter accident in southern California. You’d be wrong.
Though he bypassed college himself, said he would have gone to Duke if he had taken a pause before jumping to the NBA and was an unabashed fan of Connecticut women’s basketball, the soon-to-be Hall of Famer actually had multiple ties to the Irish. Most personally, Kobe and current Notre Dame sophomore receiver Braden Lenzy knew each other well enough for Kobe to occasionally offer individual advice as Lenzy’s athletic career blossomed.
As The Athletic’s Pete Sampson detailed last month, Lenzy met Kobe through his father’s work with Nike. When Kobe preached the necessities of recovery for sustained success in any sport, Lenzy balked. Ice baths are rather cold, after all.
“Kobe just said, ‘That’s OK. Not everybody can be great,” Melvin Lenzy told Sampson.
Soon enough, Lenzy was icing.
My inspiration. My role model. At a loss of words.. The hardest worker I’ve ever met. Thanks for the chats we’ve had over the years and helped guide me to this point in my life. RIP to the greatest ❤️ pic.twitter.com/58L9tPu8B2
— Braden Lenzy (@blspeedy21) January 26, 2020
That speaks to the reverence Kobe inspired in the generations following in his footsteps, his willingness to engage with those young athletes and the intensity he exuded even in retirement. The most public display of Kobe’s reach extending to Notre Dame came during the Irish women’s basketball run to the 2018 national championship.
When then-junior guard Arike Ogunbowale hit a buzzer-beating game-winner in the Final Four, Kobe was on the sidelines cheering for Connecticut. His presence led to Ogunbowale mentioning the “Mamba mentality” in regards to her game-winner. A few tweets later, Kobe made it clear Ogunbowale had more work to do, no matter how impressed he already was.
Nah… it’s complete by finishing the job on Sunday @Arike_O #MambaMentality https://t.co/pvL95JCZHn
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) March 31, 2018
Of course, Ogunbowale finished that job with another buzzer-beating game-winner — as clutch as Kobe was, the NBA leader in both buzzer-beating game-winners and attempts since 2000, an easy argument can be made Ogunbowale’s 2018 Final Four weekend was the most clutch in the sport’s history. In addition to a ring, she got a friendship with the five-time NBA champion.
.@Arike_o had the world cheering for her in her incredible NCAA performance. Even @KobeBryant wanted to congratulate her. In person. @NDWbb pic.twitter.com/O8m7j9jJzQ
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) April 6, 2018
“Y’all don’t understand. That’s like the picture-perfect moment,” Kobe said. “As a kid, you dream about 5-4-3-2-1 to win the championship, and she actually did it. Twice.”
Once a competitor so fierce it may have been a flaw, Kobe’s retirement phase included an openness to those inspired by his fierceness, including Notre Dame’s Lenzy and Ogunbowale.
ON THE SENIOR BOWL
Both cornerback Troy Pride and safety Jalen Elliott had excellent weeks in front of NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. Any list of players who impressed in the spotlight includes both of them, with Elliott named a defensive practice player of the week as voted on by the opposing position groups.
Some NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl said Notre Dame's Jalen Elliott was the biggest riser of any prospect in Mobile. pic.twitter.com/no5JLmqzH9
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 25, 2020
While both Pride and Elliott undoubtedly improved their respective draft stocks, some caution should be exercised when hyping the workouts. Most of the best cornerbacks in the draft were not on hand, making the defensive backs in attendance look better by lack of comparison. Furthermore, NFL front offices will put more stock in three years of film than they will in one week’s organized workouts.
“No defensive player had a better week than Notre Dame’s Pride” is a compliment, but one with the implicit qualification of most top picks not being in attendance. Similarly, “showing enough fluidity and route recognition to stay attached to tight ends or backs” is a step in the right direction for Elliott, but the NFL worries more about defending receivers than it does most tight ends and running backs. Pride still has to overcome years of footage of his coverage flaws; Elliott is still a 6-foot safety without elite speed.
Troy Pride Jr. caps off a fantastic week at the Senior Bowl!
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 25, 2020
More than anything else, Elliott likely worked his way into the fifth or sixth round, rather than worrying about hearing his name at all in the seventh. Pride’s draft stock will still mostly hinge on his 40-speed, with him hoping for a showing in the 4.2-range. Performing well in the postseason circuit is obviously preferable to the alternative, but Pride’s and Elliott’s draft stocks were largely cast during Notre Dame’s 33-6 run over the last three seasons, for better or for worse.
INSIDE THE IRISH READING
— Notre Dame’s opponents lose plenty early to the NFL draft
— Where Notre Dame was, is & will be: Tight ends
— Where Notre Dame was, is & will be: Offensive line
— Where Notre Dame was, is & will be: Defensive line
— Notre Dame cuts ties with CB signee Landen Bartleson after arrest
— 101 best players in college football from 2019
— Top-30 offensive linemen returning to college football in 2020
— Grad transfer QB Feleipe Franks announces for Arkansas
— College football’s 100 best games of 2019
— PFF’s way-too-early 2020 top-25 rankings
— 2020 NFL draft: PFF’s top-100 big board update
Quenton Nelson getting hit in the face with a dodgeball at the NFL Pro Bowl Skills Competition is as funny as you would imagine pic.twitter.com/Hho3WXdm4E
— Jimmy Clarke (@JimmyClarke) January 24, 2020