Each person chose to honor Kobe Bryant in his own way.
Sutton Smith sported purple shoes, Denmark coach Tyler Whitlock traded his powder blue blazer for a purple T-shirt, and before Denmark's 82-59 win against White County, players from both teams huddled at midcourt as the scoreboard operator placed 24 seconds on the clock.
And as the clock ticked down from 24 seconds, players, coaches and fans used that time to reflect on the Los Angeles Lakers legend who tragically died Sunday in a helicopter crash.
“I thought it‘d be great, you know,” Whitlock said. “Kobe meant a lot of things to a lot of people, even for those that he really didn’t connect with or those who didn’t connect with him. His life and the way he went about his business was inspiration to us all.”
Whitlock’s shirt, which read “Mamba24” in interlocking text,
was the same one worn by Denmark’s and White County’s players during pregame warmups.
“They were all about it,” said Whitlock, who recalled taking the idea to Premier Image in Alpharetta on Monday, not knowing if he could pull off the tribute. “They were happy to be a part of it and feel the same way. It kind of just shows regardless of the competition on the floor, we’re all connected in some way and we have greater purposes in life.”
Clad in purple and gold Nike sneakers, Denmark sophomore Robert Cowherd appeared to channel Bryant halfway through the second quarter.
Cowherd managed to tip the ball off an inbounds pass. From there, the ball rolled to Smith, who dished Cowherd, who was waiting behind the 3-point line to score his first points of the night.
He didn’t have to wait long for another chance.
Cowherd drained another three on Denmark’s next possession, and then he hit another one, then another one, then another one and then another one.
By the time Cowherd was finished, he’d helped turn a 19-16 Denmark deficit into a 34-21 lead by sinking six 3-pointers in a row.
“Just keep shooting. We have a saying where we say, ‘Feed the fire,’” Whitlock said. “If a kid hits two in a row, we want them to get a touch every time down the floor. It doesn’t mean he needs to take it, but he needs to get a feel for the ball and make sure we keep it in his hand. It causes struggles for the defense, because they become so consumed with it that it opens up things for other guys.”
Cowherd finished with 26 points, and his barrage from 3-point range allowed senior Adonnis Tolbert to exploit White County’s post, where the Danes’ power forward threw down multiple dunks, finishing with 18 points.
“He’s starting to come into his own this last half of the season,” Whitlock said. “It was the same thing last year. It takes him about a month in a half, two months to get into basketball shape coming off the football field. Now he’s playing with confidence, which we really need going down the stretch.”
Smith was also hot from beyond the arc, knocking down four 3-pointers on his way to an 18-point performance.
In all, Denmark combined for 11 3-pointers on the night.
Cowherd said he prides himself on taking certain elements from different NBA players, and his streak in the second half was reminiscent of Bryant’s unique blend of confidence and ability to capitalize on that confidence.
“I grew up watching Kobe,” said Cowherd, who ended his night with a one-handed windmill dunk in front of Denmark’s student section. “I liked his mentality, his competitiveness, his dog in him. I always watched Kobe.”
Denmark (19-5, 11-0 Region 7-4A) has lost just one game – 84-82 to Dawson County – since the beginning of the calendar year. The Danes have already locked up the No. 1 spot in the region tournament and will host Marist at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the regular-season finale.
“I tell people we’ve got four guys that any given night can score 20 for us,” Whitlock said. “Karson Kinnevy has really stepped up for us and (is) playing some role minutes for us. Adrian Gutierrez is really playing well for us. It tends to be a different guy, so it just takes me a little while each night to figure out who that guy is.”