Dan Pangrazio was in the square, his elbow bleeding so badly that three stitches were needed to close the cut.
He had been dropped there by a teammate when they were fighting for the ball the last time a drill / game was played, which his coach had shown toughness. The sides were undecided and he would give his ballyhooed teammate his first loss in practice forever.
“The ball hit the basket. I grabbed it and held it in my hands. I definitely had a second or a half. I planted two feet and then a boom, it hits me from behind and just grabs me, ”Pangrazio told the Post in a phone interview.
"I lie on the floor and I see that I'm bleeding and I see that he goes away with the ball under his arm and says:" We win. "
That teammate was Kobe Bryant, the future NBA legend who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday at the age of 41.
"I wasn't angry. You just loved competitiveness," said Pangrazio. "There is only one thing to respect, how competitive he was and how much he wanted to win. They were only in awe of the man's drive. And we all just tried to do it justice. "
Pangrazio grew up in Fairfield County, Connecticut, but his family moved to the Philadelphia area before his first year of high school and found himself with Bryant, who was two years earlier at Lower Merion High School and already a star.
In two years, when he started with Bryant as a Lower Merion Rifle Guard, he got an early look at Bryant's legendary drive and competitiveness.
"We have only ever tried to reach the highest level because he asked you to," said Pangrazio, who is now the Assistant Superintendent for Business Services in the Ceres, California, Unified School District. “He has given this work ethic and competitiveness such a high priority. We had to prove that we should be on the court. He made us all better. "
Pangrazio, 40, was pretty good when he showed up as a freshman and coach Gregg Downer inserted him as a starter from the jump.
“My role was essentially to play defense and find ways to win [Bryant] the ball, ”said Pangrazio, who played college ball in St. Marys, California. "And of course he got so much attention when he gave me the ball, most of the time I'm wide open and I think if he throws the ball out to me, I'd better make this shot a high clip. "
Although Bryant dominated the ball and his reputation in the NBA was the first shot, it happened much later. Pangrazio said there were times in high school that Bryant was a willing passerby and would end up with a dozen or more assists because "there were always three boys on him."
One of these games took place – at least late in the game – in the quarter-finals of Bryant's season against Norristown.
"I hadn't played a big role on the offensive and [Norristown] I went into a zone and I was open and he gave me the pass four times in the past five or six possessions and I made four direct 3's, ”said Pangrazio. “In one of the critical moments of our state title run, he believed in me. That came from believing to play the right game and believe in me.
"I remember that after the game I got a big hug from him and a slap on the back from him. And if you got that from him, it means something. "
Bryant eventually led Lower Merion to the Pennsylvania state title in 1996, ending the 53-year drought of the Aces. The next year, Pangrazio was back in Connecticut, leading Fairfield Prep to his first state title in 28 years.
Although Pangrazio didn't stay in touch with Bryant – "I was gone and he was on my way to the world," he said – he said that he often looks back on his two years when he shared a dish with him.
"It was just about being great and seeing what it takes," he said.
He uses these memories, which mostly come from practice, about the drive and work ethic in life – when working with his family.
However, he made a flashback to an in-game store last week.
"The night before [Bryant was killed] LeBron walked past him [for third on the all-time scoring list]I've been thinking about its place in history, ”said Pangrazio.
“And it brought me back to a normal league game, nothing special. And they stop the game and the PA. The spokesman said he had just passed Wilt Chamberlain to get most of the points in Philadelphia high school history. And I remember thinking, "Wow, he just passed Wilt Chamberlain." We knew how great he was, but at that moment I started to think he might be one of the best in the game's history, and that's how he became. "