Kobe and Coach K together at last

In some alternate reality, Kobe Bryant would’ve played his college ball at Duke for Mike Krzyzweski –it’s where he committed out of Lower Merion High — but instead he jumped directly to the pros.

Bonus points to anyone who can name (without looking it up) where Bryant was drafted…

Eleven years later, they’re finally on the same team. Coach K being the head coach of Bryant’s USA Basketbal squad. Here’s what Kobe had to say about it as Team USA began its training camp in Las Vegas this weekend.

“It’s everything that I thought it would be, and more,” Bryant said. “When I was in high school, he was my number one choice, but I had to wait about 11 years or so to play for him. He is a great guy and an incredible coach. I’ve learned a lot from him already. He has a passion for the game, a respect for his players and above all else, he wants to see his players play well. And he wants to win. He communicates that beautifully to his players. He’s very clear on what he wants.”

All about Crawford

Here are a few things to know about guard Joe Crawford, the Lakers’ lone pick in the draft:
He’s from Detroit.
He’s got good range on his jump shot, out to the NBA 3-point line.
His favorite movie is “The Shawshank Redemption.”
His favorite TV show is “Nip/Tuck.”
His dream dinner party would include actress Ashley Judd and Michael Jordan. (Judd is a fellow Kentucky alum and a former Wildcats cheerleader).
He is not related to veteran NBA referee Joey Crawford.

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Late night at the draft

GM Mitch Kupchak said late Thursday night, long after the draft had ended, that he would call the agents for restricted free agents Sasha Vujacic and Ronny Turiaf at 9:01 p.m. Monday, when the negotating period begins.
That wasn’t much of a surprise. Kupchak has made it clear he wants Vujacic and Turiaf back for next season and beyond.
But then Kupchak said he would start talking to the agent for China’s Sun Yue, the Lakers’ second-round pick from 2007. Sun, a 6-foot-9 guard, will play for China at the Beijing Olympics in August.
“We’re very optimistic we can get him on the roster next year,” Kupchak said. “We feel (signing him after a one-year wait) is a better opportunity for him.”

Star Wars Part III: Shaq vs. Kobe

Wow, what a weird turn this Monday afternoon took. Earlier today, the gossip website TMZ.com posted a video of Shaquille O’Neal freestyle rapping at a New York club, and absolutely ripping his former teammate Kobe Bryant. The video
feels kind of like a scene from 8 Mile, and contains explicit lyrics, so if there are sensitive ears in the room, consider yourself warned.

The overriding theme of the freestyle is that Kobe can’t win without Shaq, but among the highlights and/or lowlights: “I’m a horse, Kobe ratted me out, that’s why I’m getting divorced.”

Later on, Shaq did an interview where he backtracked quite a bit, and said it was all in good fun. Basically: “the rap made me do it” defense. No word yet on how Kobe is taking the verbal smackdown

Here’s the latest from Shaq-fu:

“I was freestyling. That’s all. It was all done in fun. Nothing serious whatsoever. That is what MCs do. They freestyle when called upon. I’m totally cool with Kobe. No issue at all. And by the way, don’t forget, six albums, two platinum, two gold. Anybody who knows me knows I’m a funny freestyler. Check the NBA DVD when I was rapping about Vlade Divac during my first championship run. Please tell everybody don’t make something out of nothing.”

Kobe Bryant named to the Olympic Team

I almost didn’t post this, because it’s been assumed for so long. But the official announcement came down today. Here’s a link to the roster:

Here’s what Kobe said last week about his role on the Olympic team:

“I don’t have as many responsibilities (on the Olympic team). There’s still a leadership component, but in terms of basketball execution, my role is to defend and if they need to get points, I can do that too. But I don’t have to do as much work because the USA obviously has a deep team.”

Flashback: 1984

In the days that have passed since the Lakers season ended in Boston, more than a few people have drawn comparisons between these Lakers and the 1984 Lakers, who lost to Boston in an eerily similar NBA Finals. Remember that clothesline?

Here’s what general manager Mitch Kupchak had to say about it:

“ In 1984, I sat basically in that same building, in that same cubicle when we got beat by the Celtics. So I know how they feel,” Kupchak said. “I also know as time goes on they will feel better. There is something to be learned through defeat. You learn a little bit about yourself, you learn about what you have to work on during the offseason. … I think there’s a learning process here that may benefit us in the future.

“It’s my job to have some vision and I don’t live in the trenches with the players and the coaches. I take the losses hard, but I do have to take a step back and look at the future. Of course, it all came to a screeching halt on Tuesday night, so the last two or three days there have been a lot of down players walking through our offices. They’re starting to see some players smile a little bit and work there way through a tough time. I will say I do know how they feel.”

Kobe would like Sasha back

It’s one of the oddest, least expected pairings you could think of, but Kobe Bryant is actually pretty tight with young shooting guard Sasha Vujacic. In years past, he’s invited him to train with him during the summers, and seems to respect Vujacic’s passion for the game. Now that Vujacic is a restricted free agent, here’s the advice Bryant said he’d give his young disciple.

“With Shi-shi (Sasha). He should do what’s obviously best for himself and his family. Obviously as a big brother, that’s the best advice I could give him,” Bryant said. “I would love to keep him around for selfish reasons, because of his defense, his passion, and his shooting was obviously something that was invaluable to us this year. So for my own selfish reasons, I would love to keep him here, but as a big brother, he has to do what’s best for him and his family.”

Then a reporter asked Bryant: “If it got down to couple hundred thousand, would you kick in for it?”

Bryant, similar to the look he got used to giving when we’d ask whether he’d be picking up the tab for the Lakers team meals throughout the playoffs again, quipped, “I’m not the richest one in this building homey, I don’t know what you’re looking at me for.”

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Gasol won’t soon forget

The normally reserved, thoughtful Pau Gasol was downright feisty when asked about the emotions he’ll carry with him from the recently concluded NBA Finals against the Celtics.

Gasol said that the pain from the loss will linger for a long time, as will his memory of Boston fans shaking the Lakers team bus as they drove away from TD Banknorth Arena Tuesday night.

“I’m definitely going to keep these feelings, because it wasn’t pleasant to see all the Boston fans go crazy on us after the game and hitting the bus and all that crap,” he said. “It’s just something I’m going to keep in mind all year long until we get there again.”

Turiaf’s Olympic plans

Ronny Turiaf said Thursday that he would not play for France at the Summer Olympics unless his contract situation has been resolved.

“I’m not going to play unless I’ve got a contract,” Turiaf said. “So I don’t know yet. Everything will happen like it’s supposed to. I have faith in it.”