Background: Before he was drafted 14th overall by the Golden State Warriors, Joe Bryant, Kobe Bryant’s father, went to LaSalle University from 1973-1975. During his career, he played for the 76ers, the Clippers, and the Rockets before he began his overseas career in Italy. He spent 1984-1991 raising his family in Italy before he headed back home to Ardmore, PA, right outside of Philadelphia, Pa. At the time, Kobe Bryant was 13 years old and going into 9th grade.
Meanwhile, Sam Rines, an assistant coach at LaSalle University for eleven years and elementary school teacher at Abington township, was asked to either become a full time assistant coach or to step down form his position because of a new NCAA rule eliminating part time coaches.
Sam Rines decided to step down from his position to continue his teaching career and Joe Bryant replaced Sam Rines as an assistant coach at LaSalle University. This is where their relationship began.
An interview with Sam Rines:
Q: Were you still affiliated with LaSalle after you stepped down from coaching?
A: After I stepped down from LaSalle, I was still working out and mentoring some of the players on the weekends. I was still doing my clinics [workouts] at LaSalle and I had my own program. I had everybody. I had Alvin Williams, Cantino Mobley, Marc Jackson, Pooh Richardson, Paul Graham, Devon Wade, Randy Woods, Tim Legler [yes, the one from ESPN], Lionel Simmons, everybody.
Q: When did you first meet Kobe ?
A: He used to watch us practice. I told him to get into line and participate. He would come by and practice with us on the weekends. He liked playing with our kids.
Q: So when did Kobe begin playing AAU with you?
A: Joe asked me. I didn’t invite him, but I allowed him to play. He was already playing against older guys so Joe asked me to put him on the 17’s.
Q: What happened at the first tournament?
A: I took him up to Delaware. He was good, had 5 threes in a row. He stole the show.
Q: What kind of player was he?
A: He worked. He used to practice with me in the morning, then play two or three times after that. He always practiced game speed.
But, I remember he couldn’t dribble. I remember playing at Boston College, playing BABC, and he lost us the game because he decided to work on a move that he couldn’t perfect. He kicked the ball off of his foot six straight times, and this was in front of 100 coaches.
Q: Who were some of Kobe’s biggest rivals in the area?
A: Kobe was challenged before he could handle the ball. He had a whole lot of players who gave him problems. I would say his top rivals were Rip Hamilton, Donnie Carr, Arthur Davis, and John Linehan. But Rip and John Linehan played with me.
I remember John Linehan used to take the ball from him every time he put it on the floor. “Reds” [Shawn Smith] helped him with his ball handling and moves. He couldn’t be touched after that.
Q: When did you know he was going to be a star in the NBA?
A: I knew Kobe would play in the NBA, when him and Rip played Shammgod Wells and Shaheen Holloway in the Cage Classic, his sophomore year.
But I knew he would be a star in the NBA the spring before his senior year when he played against the Patterson All-Stars [NJ Playaz]. He was fighting to be the number one player in the country. They had Tim Thomas, Vince Carter, Edmund Saunders, and Kevin Freeman. We had Kobe, Rip, John Linehan, Jimmy Dillon, and Travar Johnson. I don’t remember that stats, but Kobe and Rip stole the show.
People talk about the best AAU teams ever, I think I had everyone beat. He [Kobe] used to tell me that he didn’t like playing with other AAU teams because he couldn’t be the star.
Then I remember sitting down with Joe and Sonny [Vaccaro] about Kobe going directly into the NBA. The rest is history.
Q: How do you think you helped Kobe’s game?
A: I allowed him to develop. I taught him patience and simplicity. He was special. He had the footwork.
Q: Are there any other memories you remember with Kobe and the AAU/LaSalle experience?
A: Yeah, everyone always asks me if he would have gone to college what school would he have chosen. If I were to rank them, one would be LaSalle, two would be Duke (he loved Krzyzewski) and three would be the University of Michigan. At one time, they were talking about a Fab 5 at LaSalle. The rumor was that Joe was going to get the head coaching job at LaSalle, and they were going to get bring in Kobe, Rip, Jermaine O’neal, Lester Earl, and I can’t remember the fifth. But once Kobe announced he was going to the NBA that was the end of that.
It was great having Kobe in our program. I got to see him blossom into a man and one of the greatest players to ever play in the NBA.