BECKLEY — On Monday on the East Coast, the Oak Hill Middle School girls honored the memory of a kindred soul their own age who tragically perished Sunday on the West Coast.
As the Red Devil girls took the floor against Park in the opening game of the Big Atlantic Classic at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center, their game shoes bore the added-on inscription "Gigi."
It was for Gianna "Gigi" Bryant, the 13-year-old daughter of NBA legend Kobe Bryant. The father and daughter, as well as seven other individuals, lost their lives when the helicopter which they were aboard crashed in Calabasas, Calif.
Like countless others since Sunday, Oak Hill Middle eighth-grader Kyndall Ince has had a difficult time coming to terms with the death of Gianna, her father and the others.
"She was 13 just like us," Ince said of Gigi, one of four daughters of Bryant and his wife, Vanessa. "It's really hard, because she was just starting her career.
"I really tried to play for her (Monday)."
"I was in the car with my coach and he told me and I was in shock," she said of the passing of Kobe Bryant, who played 20 years with the Los Angeles Lakers, helping lead the team to five NBA titles while becoming one of the game's greatest players. "He was such a big inspiration for a lot of people." Ince said she followed Bryant's career.
Of her coach's message to her and her teammates Monday against Park, Ince said, "He told us to play like there was no tomorrow, so I went out there and played like there was no tomorrow."
Ince's coach, Darrell Compton, called himself "a huge Lakers fan." While admitting to be more of a follower of teams from the "Magic (Johnson) timeline," Compton also said he followed Bryant's career in Los Angeles. "When Kobe played, I loved watching him. He was like watching Michael Jordan."
He admits the news of the horrific crash hit him hard. "Dude, that hit me like a hammer," Compton said.
Besides the ongoing lure of the Lakers for him, Compton said he's been more interested in Kobe Bryant's actions in recent years.
"For the past three or four years, I've been following him and his daughter," said Compton. "He's been truly promoting girls basketball, whether it be AAU ball or what have you; he's been really promoting it."
Compton and his wife, Shannon, were talking while sitting at home Sunday, and the discussion led to placing Gigi's name on the Red Devil players' shoes. While the elder Bryant "has been great for girls basketball," the Red Devils also honored the memory of a teenager just like them who had a passion for the game.
"These girls love the game of basketball," Compton said Monday. "When I walked in the locker room before the game, I had two of them crying.
"That (Gigi) is their age group."
In the locker room before the game against Park, he said he told his players, "Play like it's your last game ... because it could be."
The Devils will keep Gigi Bryant's name on their shoes the remainder of the season.
• • •
A late flurry allowed Park to creep within two points, 12-10, at halftime of Oak Hill in Monday's tourney opener, but the Red Devils took control as the second half progressed to capture a 34-22 victory to improve to 11-0.
Kyndall Ince and Taysia Gray tallied 10 points each to guide the Oak Hill offense. Other scorers were: Graclin Tabit, 1; Kiana Kiszka, 2; Kyndall Dooley, 3; Edith Milam, 4; and Peyton Light, 4.
For Park, Abby Dillon had a game-high 11 points. Other point producers included: Maya Wooten, 2; Grace Sharp, 2; Jayla Joyce, 2; Sarah Diehl, 1; and Allee Adkins, 4.
On Tuesday, Oak Hill remained perfect by doubling up Baileysville, 48-24, in its second BAC contest.
Ince netted 18 points and Dooley and Gray chipped in 10 each to lead the way. Also providing offense were: Light, 4; Kiszka, 2; Tabit, 2; and Kasey Compton, 2.
Oak Hill will play Eastern Greenbrier in the championship matchup at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 29.
Email: email@example.com or follow on Twitter @gb_scribe