‘Selfless superstar’: Former CSU basketball player remembers Kobe Bryant

Matthew Bailey

When one former basketball player heard about the death of Kobe Bryant, he got to remember him not just as a basketball superstar, but as someone who supported him after facing a personal loss.

Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant, were killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, on Sunday, Jan. 26. He played for the Los Angeles Lakers for 20 years before retiring in 2016.

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Born in Nigeria and raised in Hyattsville, Maryland, then-20-year-old Emmanuel Omogbo was playing forward for Rams men’s basketball in his first of two seasons at CSU when he lost his mother, father, niece and nephew in a house fire in Maryland Jan. 19, 2016.

People within the CSU community and abroad expressed their support and contributed to a GoFundMe for Omogbo and his family, which raised over $104,000. But among Omogbo’s supporters was Bryant, who sent Omogbo a video message after the tragedy.

“I just wanted to take the time to let you know that I’m thinking about you,” Bryant said in the video. “You’re in my prayers and will continue to be in my prayers, and your strength, your courage, is a true inspiration.”

Omogbo, who grew up a Lakers fan and who said his father’s favorite player was Bryant, said Bryant’s video had an impact on him.

“That video he sent to me a few years ago, that just shows how selfless of a superstar he could be,” Omogbo said. “He didn’t know how well it was going to hit me or not. He was just trying to send a positive message, and I thought that was everything. That gave me extra motivation.”

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Omogbo went on to set a Mountain West record with 13 double-doubles during conference play in 2016, and he was named to the All-Mountain West first team and MW All-Defensive team, according to a 2017 article by The Collegian.

He is ranked in CSU’s top 20 list in every major rebounding category, according to the article.

Omogbo would play in the NBA Summer League with the Golden State Warriors in 2017 before signing a one-year deal with Victoria Libertas Pallacanestro, an Italian professional basketball team that competes in the Lega Basket Serie A.

After playing for teams in Lithuania and Israel, Omogbo is now back in Italy playing for Pallacanestro Biella in Biella, Italy.

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Omogbo said he was shocked to hear about the loss of Bryant and his daughter.

“It’s just a shock for everybody: the whole basketball world, all over the country,” Omogbo said. “Everybody’s paying homage, and you can see how the basketball world loved Kobe (Bryant). Not even basketball, just people in general.”

Despite Bryant not having a major impact on the way he plays basketball, Omogbo said Bryant’s work ethic was particularly influential for him.

“Just how hard he grinds, how hard he goes for what he wants, … when somebody tells him he can’t do it, he tries to prove to you he can do it,” Omogbo said. “Him being selfless, being a good father, he was everything a man should be. It seems like that’s what Kobe Bryant was.”

Omogbo explained that while it’s appropriate to mourn Bryant and his daughter, the other victims must be remembered as well.

As for Bryant, Omogbo paid homage to him, remembering his act of kindness that came at a time of grief.

“What he had done for the game, what he had done for the sport, what he had done all around the world, … it’s just very devastating,” Omogbo said. “He’s just a selfless superstar. … My prayers go out to his family.”

Matt Bailey can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @MattBailey760.