Texas' Smart, Pierce reflect on Kobe Bryant and others lost in helicopter crash

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Texas head coach Shaka Smart is always trying to invoke on-court emotion and passion from his team.

Emotion and passion were two things Kobe Bryant had in spades.

As the Longhorns begin a crucial week of Big 12 play that includes a trip to Fort Worth to take on TCU on Wednesday before hosting Iowa State on Saturday afternoon, it’s hard not to discuss anything basketball-related without remembering an athlete who transcended the sport he played.

The 41-year-old Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday in California.

“I wish more guys would study him and what he was about,” Smart said. “There are a ton of things that are impressive about him, but at the top of the list was his standard that he had for himself and his teammates. It was centered on one thing: winning.”

Bryant won the NBA MVP award in 2008, was a five-time NBA Champion, a two-time Finals MVP, an 18-time NBA All-Star, a two-time scoring champion and was named to the All-NBA First Team 11 times.

Off the court, he was a philanthropist, businessman, and family man — he and his daughter were on their way to a basketball tournament on Sunday morning.

A few members of the Texas coaching staff and a couple of players were at the facility getting treatment when the news of the crash first started to spread.

“He’s one of those select people that seemed larger than life, and even though he retired, it seemed like he was immortal,” Smart said. “For him to be taken away so fast, it was hard to believe. It’s a sad day in the game of basketball.”

Texas baseball coach David Pierce released a statement when he learned that John Altobelli, who was his teammate for a couple of seasons at Houston, died in the helicopter crash along with his wife and daughter.

“(Sunday), we lost a dear friend, his wife, and their daughter,” Pierce said. “Alto was special. We were roommates in college and have had the best relationship two old guys on opposite sides of the county could have. We’ve seen each other’s families grow and lives change for 35 years.”

Pierce said he last saw Altobelli accept a National Coach of the Year award earlier this month, and his impact on the baseball community was incredible. Altobelli sen nearly three decades as head baseball coach at Orange Coast College.

Longhorns infielder Murphy Stehly, who was a member of the Longhorns’ 2019 recruiting class, played for Altobelli at OCC.

“Susan and I loved and will continue to love Alto and his family,” Pierce said. “I know many cans the same. My heart breaks for all those affected by (Sunday’s) tragedy. May they rest in peace.”

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