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Remarks Irritate Bryant's High School Coach

LAKERS REPORT

March 27, 2001|TIM BROWN

When Phil Jackson mused last week that Kobe Bryant might have "sabotaged" his own high school basketball games for selfish purposes, Bryant wasn't the only one insulted.

Gregg Downer, Bryant's coach at Lower Merion High in Ardmore, Pa., said Monday he was irritated by Jackson's reckless characterization of Bryant and the program.

"It's ridiculous," Downer said. "I'm getting tired of the microscopic existence Kobe is leading out there. To attack the integrity of myself and the integrity of my basketball program is not right. I'd like to know who his source is. It shows a lack of professionalism.

"I don't appreciate it personally. I can tell you, honestly, it's 100% off base. If Phil wants to say something like that, he better recheck his sources."

Downer, 38, recently completed his 11th season with Lower Merion, where Bryant graduated in 1996. In four seasons with Bryant, Lower Merion was 83-32. Downer, who remains close to the Bryant family, was stung by Jackson's recent characterizations of Bryant's high school play.

"No one who knows him is going to question his fiber," Downer said. "I'll get people who'll line up around the block to talk about how hard this kid played."

Jackson, who has been publicly hard on Bryant in the past, recently told a Chicago Sun-Times columnist that Bryant had been complaining about his role in the offense.

Jackson then added: "Someone told me that in high school, Kobe used to sabotage his own games. So the game could be close. So he could dominate at the end. To sabotage the team process, to be so self-centered in your own process--it's almost stupefying."

Bryant has virtually ignored the remarks, calling them "ridiculous" and not worth comment.

Downer chose to comment.

"The 'sabotage' thing is not the truth," he said. "If [Jackson] wants to investigate through me, what this high school experience was for him, he should. Kobe had to play his tail off for us to win. Our teams were Kobe and four Division III-types. We were one Kobe sprained ankle from not winning anything. Kobe's out there fighting his tail off. He had a remarkable career. He brought it every night."

"Knowing his competitive spirit, this is being twisted. I can appreciate the tough love, and I can appreciate the fact Kobe's not the easiest to coach. He can be stubborn and hardheaded. But, I also see a player who has gotten better statistically every year in the league, who's not afraid to take the big shot every night. I'm not going to take on seven NBA titles, so I'll just say his source was wrong. But, it often seems like the kid can do no right."

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Bryant, who has not played since he strained his left ankle Wednesday in Milwaukee, is expected to test a set of orthotic devices today. Bryant has had trouble with both ankles.

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