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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Middle school students in West Philadelphia got the surprise of the school year, and some life coaching from hometown legend.
In a quiet library on the third floor of Andrew Hamilton School in West Philadelphia, students read with Philadelphia native and NBA great Kobe Bryant.
“I probably shed a few tears and all that when I first seen him,” JaJa Curry said. “Then he sat next to me.”
Curry is one of 10 middle school student-athletes from the intramural program Philadelphia Youth Basketball chosen to sit with Bryant.
It was part of Bryant’s debut this week of his new young adult fantasy novel, “The Wizenard Series: Training Camp.”
“The book was wonderful,” Curry said. “It was amazing, like you could tell Kobe likes magic and all that.”
The plot focuses on compassion and empathy through basketball.
After a small group discussion, Bryant surprised 200 more student-athletes from the same program.
He, of course, had to shout out Philadelphia.
“We make the best basketball players, “Bryant said. “We make the best well-rounded individuals.”
Bryant said he first thought of the concept for his novel three years ago.
A secret skill his former high school English teacher Jeanne Mastriano at Lower Merion High School said dates back to 10th grade.
“I had been trying to stop him from talking about basketball because he needed to think about other things,” Mastriano said. “Yes, he has aspirations but you know, how realistic are they? And who knew?”
His former basketball coach Gregg Downer had a hunch when he first met Bryant as a freshman.
“His commitment to excellence was unlike any player I had ever seen,” Downer said.
Bryant reached back by offering advice to students when on the court.
“On basketball, he was like, ‘Don’t watch highlights,’” Curry said. “Watch how they move.”
Each student received a free copy of Bryant’s book, but they say it was his spoken words that left a lasting impression.
“He’s just inspiring,” Braheem Gineraw said. “He tells you to reach your full potential.”
“The Wizenard Series: Training Camp” is one of five that will come out in the near future.
Bryant said he hopes to write for many more years to come.