By CBS3 Staff


LOWER MERION TWP, Pa. (CBS) — Before his illustrious 20-year NBA career and becoming a basketball icon, Kobe Bryant dazzled fans during his time playing for Lower Merion High School. On Monday, one day after Bryant’s tragic and unexpected death, Lower Merion’s basketball coach Gregg Downer issued an emotional statement about his former player.

Credit: CBS3

At one point in the statement, Downer says he viewed Bryant as his hero.

“It is with complete shock and a broken heart that I mourn the passing of Kobe Bryant and his beautiful daughter, Gianna, and all the victims of this horrific tragedy.

My deepest condolences to the families involved, to Laker Nation, to Kobe’s fans around the world, and to our local Aces Nation.

It may seem odd for a grown man to admit it, but yesterday I lost my hero. Never have I witnessed such passion, work ethic, and intensity — such a unique and purposeful drive for greatness. No excuses. No shortcuts. No days off. Kobe set the standard. He was our superman.

Kobe was a phenomenal athlete, a brilliant mind, and the fiercest competitor to walk the earth. And he was an even better father. The bond we shared in raising our young daughters was the source of my greatest pride in our relationship. When Kobe would take my daughter, Brynn, into his arms for hugs and high fives, our smiles were a mile wide — the joy was incomparable. We had found something more important than basketball. We had discovered our purpose.

It is not often in life you see pure greatness. I was lucky enough to have a front row seat to it for four years. He pushed me as a coach to be better and I pushed him right back. It was a beautiful, winning combination for which I will forever be grateful. Our Aces motto is “hard work, dedication, results.” No one did it any better.

Moving forward seems nearly impossible, but I wonder if Kobe would tell us to “bounce the ball, squeak the sneakers and compete.”

We will continue to seek your inspiration daily and honor your legacy with our current and future Aces. We will never let your Aces Nation down.

I love you, Kobe Bean Bryant. Thank you for all you have done for me, for Lower Merion Basketball and for the world.”

Downer coached Bryant from 1992 until 1996 and won a state championship before Bryant made the leap to the NBA.

A memorial in Bryant’s memory has been growing outside of Lower Merion High School as the community mourns Kobe’s death.