Sabrina Ionescu, Diana Taurasi and Geno Auriemma pay tribute to Kobe and Gigi Bryant

LOS ANGELES — Geno Auriemma took a look all around him, laying eyes on the greatest collection of current and former basketball players he has ever seen.

But first, the legendary UConn women’s basketball coach had to recognize something that a packed — and still mourning — Staples Center also had witnessed.

“There’s some amazing women in this room, aren’t there?” Auriemma asked.

Amid a constellation of NBA Hall of Famers, All-Stars and some of the greatest coaches to ever be a part of the game in attendance, Monday’s emotional sold-out memorial service for Kobe and Gianna Bryant — who were among nine people killed last month in a helicopter crash in Los Angeles — featured an unmistakable women’s basketball presence for Gigi’s life and aspirations and Kobe’s post-playing days as a father and girls’ basketball coach and mentor.

Auriemma, WNBA champion and four-time Olympic gold medalist Diana Taurasi and Oregon basketball star Sabrina Ionescu were asked to be among the seven featured speakers at the celebration. The first four speakers were Vanessa Bryant, Taurasi, Ionescu and Auriemma, each setting a clear tone of how much women’s basketball had become a part of the Bryant family’s life and Gigi’s dreams and goals.



Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu shares some of her most cherished memories of Kobe and Gianna Bryant at their memorial in Los Angeles.

Taurasi and Ionescu idolized Bryant but also saw Gigi’s passion for women’s basketball and her unlimited potential.

“Kobe’s willingness to do the hard work and make the sacrifice every single day inspired me and resonated with the city of Los Angeles,” Taurasi said. “We struggled together, we grew together, we celebrated victories together. The same passion we all recognized in Kobe, obviously Gigi inherited. Her skill was undeniable at an early age.

“I mean who has a turnaround fadeaway jumper at 11? LeBron [James] barely got it today,” she cracked.

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Ionescu, the front-runner for women’s college basketball player of the year and projected No. 1 WNBA draft pick who is nine rebounds away from becoming the first men’s or women’s Division I player to get 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists, spoke about first meeting Bryant and his daughter at an Oregon-USC game, and how she developed a relationship with both of them after that.

Ionescu, who flew up to the Bay Area right after the celebration to play against Stanford on Monday night (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN App), talked about how Bryant taught her his step-back shot, complete with how high the arc should be on her shot and how to angle her foot and which leg to kick out for maximum power.

Ionescu, like Taurasi and Auriemma, saw the future in Gigi.

“If I represented the women’s game, Gigi was the future, and Kobe knew it,” said the Oregon star, adding that she worked out twice with Gigi last summer and helped Kobe with his team. “So we decided to build a future together. …

“She always wanted to learn and to go to every game she could, college, NBA, WNBA. Kobe was helping her with that because he saw it in her. Just like he saw it in me. His vision for others is always bigger than that for themselves. His vision for me was way bigger than my own. More importantly he didn’t just show up in my life and leave, he stayed.”

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