There are 181 players in men's Division I basketball who wear No. 24. So many of them do so in large part, if not solely, because of Kobe Bryant. They come from more than 30 states and 10 countries, including the Netherlands, Ukraine, Nigeria, Latvia, France and Portugal. Australia, too. They're as short as 5-foot-10 and as tall as 7 feet.
Bryant's influence over basketball and the sports world has been overwhelming in the wake of the tragedy that took the future Hall of Famer, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others aboard the star-crossed helicopter flight on Jan. 26. Bryant retired in 2016. He played just long enough to have idol-like impact on dozens and maybe even hundreds of current college players. Below, 11 players who wear Bryant's No. 24 are spotlighted. They told CBS Sports their reasons for wearing No. 24 (by rule, college players can't wear No. 8, the other number Bryant wore) and what Bryant still means to them. Quotes have been edited for clarity and conciseness. Their paths all different, their perspectives fascinating and motivating.
My thanks to Ken Pomeroy, who was able to supply me with the roster data that allowed me to begin the research for this project. Here is how Kobe Bryant's influence and spirit still resonates, loudly, in college basketball in 2020.
Sacred Heart junior E.J. Anosike (East Orange, New Jersey)
Anosike (15.7 ppg, 11.1 rpg) is arguably the best player in the Northeast Conference and is attempting to lead Sacred Heart to its first NCAA Tournament in school history. Making his veneration even stronger, Anosike's sister, Nicky, is 12 years his senior. She played for Pat Summitt at Tennessee, then spent five seasons in the WNBA, including a season in Los Angeles with the Sparks.
"It started when I was really young, around 2 years old. He's always been my favorite player. At the time he was wearing No. 8 and I'm the eighth child, the youngest of eight children. Even when I was really young, I could tell you every player on the team. I love Kobe Bryant. My mom got me a Kobe jersey at that age. I always gravitated toward basketball, and as I got older, my sister would play in the WNBA and she would tell me how Kobe was as a person and his work ethic. How he supported women's basketball. As I started taking basketball more seriously, I was drawn to his work ethic."
His first summer at Sacred Heart, Anosike's coach told players they needed to make 10,000 shots over the course of the summer. Anosike insisted on taking a Kobe-like approach: he made double that -- and double everyone on the team. The next summer, he upped it to 25,000, continued again last summer and estimates he's made more than 100,000 shots on his own time.
"Constant work ethic, keep getting better and trying to master my craft. I was born in New York, but I was raised in New Jersey. I come from a single-parent household; my mom raised all eight of us by herself. The odds were stacked against us. Kobe, the odds were stacked him. The Celtics had the Big Three, he found a way to win the title. Shaq left, he found a way to win. As I got to college, I started listening to him more and how he got to that level and how he got to be one of the best players ever. I wanted to be a starter, one of the best players on the team, the best player in the conference."
After learning of Bryant's death, Anosike got a call from friends back in Jersey who specialize in designs and artwork on sneakers. He plans on unveiling his unique pair of Kobe tribute shoes later this month.
"Before, I wore 24 because I was a Kobe fan who admired him. Everyone had their reasons for their love for Kobe. Now, I embrace the number even more because of what it symbolizes. Twenty-four hours a day you have to be focused on your grind. Now I feel like it's a number -- when people look at me, like, 'He has to be good.' You don't just wear that number. It's similar to the Michael Jordan effect back in the '90s. He has to be good to wear that number. Every day, I have to bring it to prove to myself, to prove to everyone that I'm the best and want to be the best."
Creighton junior Mitch Ballock (Eudora, Kansas)
Last Sunday, as millions around the globe were still in shock over the news of Bryant's death, Ballock and his Creighton teammates played a game against Xavier. They won 77-66. The big moment came when Ballock hit a scramble 3-pointer. He released the shot with eight seconds left on the shot clock -- and 8:24 to go in the half.
"That's just, God is real, man. There are no coincidences in life. I learned that over in Israel -- it was unbelievable -- that everything happens for a reason. It honestly does. I didn't think that was a coincidence, obviously the day of and not even hours after the tragedy happened. I've been wearing the No. 24 since I was probably a fifth-grader. Obviously, Kobe, the way he plays, with the intensity and tenacity he plays with, just really stuck with me when I was younger. Now it carries a bigger meaning outside of the game of basketball because of all the stuff that comes out about him and how he changed lives of everybody off the court. He made a bigger impact by playing the game and used his platform in a great way. I think that's unbelievable, and it's cool to wear the number."
Ballock (13.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.6 apg) is not only Creighton's best 3-point shooter, his 46.6% accuracy makes him one of the sharpest in the country. He has a chance to be the greatest 3-point maker in Bluejay history.
"My favorite Kobe memory was definitely the 60-point night. I remember I was at my house, and my oldest brother came back to the house and we were watching it. If I remember correctly, we were trying to set up two TVs because the Golden State Warriors were going for their 73-9 season. We started watching the Lakers game -- the Kobe game. We were watching in the basement, we couldn't figure it out [setting up both TVs], so we figured: the Warriors are going to play more games; this is Kobe's last one. You had all the superstars in Los Angeles that night -- Snoop Dogg and Shaq and everybody. And when Shaq challenged him to 50, he went out and got 60. That Mamba Mentality. I have two jerseys: a Kobe Lower Merion jersey and Jesus Shuttlesworth. Those are the only jerseys I ever bought. And then I have this award when I was a sixth-grader, I think, I got the Kobe Bryant Award on my team. That's the only award that hangs on my wall back at home."
Florida senior Kerry Blackshear Jr. (Orlando, Florida)
Bryant's influence was, of course, global, and Blackshear (14.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg) is one small example of the impact. The son of a professional basketball player, Blackshear lived in Venezuela and Spain for much of his childhood. It was during those years that he would watch the Lakers -- be it live or on tape delay -- and learned to love the game. While most interviewed of course cited Bryant's Laker feats, Blackshear vividly remembers the USA National Team performances. And so the number 24 has always been a tribute to Kobe.
"I wore 24 in AAU, all throughout high school and all throughout college I was 100% 24. He's definitely my favorite player. I grew up watching the Lakers, especially when I was overseas, they were one of the really good teams they always showed on TV. I remember him winning his fifth championship, that was one of my favorite moments. When he hit a clutch bucket for Team USA against Spain [in the Olympics], that was a big-time moment for me. [Kobe's death] definitely makes you appreciate being able to grow up watching somebody like him. I think what he stood for is something that I want to grow to stand for -- somebody who maximizes his opportunity, his talent each and every day."
Missouri freshman Kobe Brown (Huntsville, Alabama)
There is only one player in college basketball who wears No. 24 ... and is named Kobe. Even his initials are KB. He plays for Mizzou. Allow him to explain.
"Kobe Bryant's dad was a coach at La Salle and my dad had a player named Ronnie Braxton who was a pretty good player, so Kobe's dad was recruiting Ronnie, and I guess one time they had him up to Philly or whatever and my dad stayed with him or hung out with him and he took him to one of Kobe Bryant's high school games. My dad told him right after the game that if I ever have a son, I'm going to name him after Kobe."
Brown knew of Kobe from a very young age, and took to the Lakers star immediately. His favorite moment of Kobe's isn't a single game or big shot. It's the "Mamba out" goodbye speech he gave following his career-closing 60-point effort in 2016.
"Whenever 24 was taken, I would wear No. 8. All throughout my life -- rec league, pickup, anything where I had to have a number -- it would be 24. Unless that was taken, I would go with No. 8. Kobe Bryant was my biggest idol, him and my dad of course, but I always wanted to model my life after him, because on the court of course he was one of the greats and killed everybody in front of him. But off the court, he just wanted to be the best at everything. I feel like that's a good life to model one's after. His mentality, the Mamba Mentality. He comes out and knows he's going to kill whoever he's in front of. He has no fear in his heart at all. When it first happened, the first couple of days, it was sad and hit me a lot. Now, it's like I'm taking it as an eye-opener. Every day is not promised. If a guy like that can go down, any one of us can go down. Wearing the number definitely means a lot more now. I feel like I'm playing for him and he's playing through me as I go on the court every night, night in and night out. I feel like I have a target on my back, and I'm representing a bigger cause."
UCLA sophomore Jalen Hill (Corona, California)
A greater-Los Angeles native playing for the city's historic, premier program, Hill found out Bryant died as he was going through pre-game foam-rolling/stretching for UCLA's game vs. Oregon.
"Twenty-four came into play -- I wanted to wear 23 for my trainer that passed away when I was in high school, TK Reed. Twenty-four wasn't a backup. I wanted to wear 24, too. Kobe Bryant. I still watch his motivational videos and his interviews. I watch more of those than I do the highlights. His mindset really helped me propel my game forward and increase my work ethic."
Hill was heartbroken but inspired the day of the tragedy. He wound up having maybe his best game of the season, scoring 16 points and contributing eight rebounds, two steals, two assists and a block that afternoon. After the game, he told the Los Angeles Times that Bryant's impact on the world hit him in a distinguished way when he saw hordes of people still absorbing the devastating news hours after it became known.
"People deal with grief in their own different ways. For me it's been tough because that's somebody I looked up to, basketball-wise. Everybody says you can't believe when it happens, but you have to deal with it and whichever way is best for you. Just knowing that things about Kobe Bryant's mindset and what he wants to do on the court, turning that into working out and changing my life up, because whenever these things happen, it's a shock to your life and it helps you look at things in a different way."
Gonzaga junior Corey Kispert (Edmonds, Washington)
Each player highlighted in this story has a different perspective or reason why they're connected to or inspired by Bryant. Kispert did not select No. 24 from a young age because of Bryant, but the number's affiliation to Bryant quickly became something he understood and embraced. And last week, Kispert made the unique decision to suspend wearing the No. 24 for one game in honor of Kobe. Instead, he wore the team's spare "blood" jersey, No. 53. Of course: 5 + 3 = 8.
"Obviously, wearing the number, a lot of people asked me, 'Do you wear it because of Kobe?' So obviously I took a liking to his game. Just hearing a bunch of crazy stories about his work ethic, the way he talked about his teammates, balancing his life with his daughters. I ate it up from afar. I would never say he was my favorite player growing up, but was someone I looked up to and the way he cared about himself, his people, his teammates. So leading up to the helicopter crash, it took our whole team by surprise, clearly, and we spent a lot of time as a team talking about it, how crazy it was. A lot of the guys made the comment about how Kobe seemed untouchable, invincible. Seeing him pass in such an earthly way was pretty crazy."
Since Bryant's death, the stories and anecdotes have been practically endless in terms of his reach, how many people he touched and/or had connections with. That is true of Gonzaga, not just because Mark Few has worked with USA Basketball, but because former Gonzaga players Adam Morrison and Robert Sacre both were teammates of Bryant's with the Lakers. Morrison does radio for the Zags, and Sacre is interning in the GU athletic department.
"What led me to decide to retire the numbe -- or whatever you want to call it -- for a game was our team had a meeting, it might have been Monday, so a day after. We had Robert Sacre and Adam Morrison, they're both in Spokane. They obviously touched on what a great basketball player he was, both but both commented very specifically on how Kobe took care of them personally. How he, no matter how much Kobe got on them or how harsh he was as a competitor, they always knew Kobe had their back. Tears were shed in that meeting. A lot of really personal stories, and it was clear that Kobe was really close to them in more ways than one.
"Then coach Few said some words about how Kobe showed up to one of the last pregame scouting meetings we had before the Final Four team played South Carolina. He came in and gave the guys shoes, and coach Few talked about his personal experience with Kobe and whenever he visited LA, he had a lot of respect for Gonzaga and would always shake hands, look him in the eye and be really personable. That's what moved me to make the decision to retire the number. It was honoring the way that Kobe respected the game of basketball."
Pittsburgh junior Ryan Murphy (Calabasas, California)
Murphy's family lives in the same town -- less than two miles -- from where Bryant's helicopter crashed. He has played at the Mamba Academy countless times. Calabasas' community is an active one, and it's common for people to work out, hike or leisurely enjoy the sights on the hills in Calabasas' irregular terrain. Murphy himself has worked out on those hills near where the helicopter crashed. Murphy was getting a drink at the end of practice when a teammate walked over and told him, "Kobe died." It did not register at first.
"I'm looking down, I have my Kobe shoes on, got my 24 jersey on and just walked back. We had a lift session and it took me a minute. After lift, I went to my room and broke down. Being a California guy, Kobe is someone that's a part of your childhood. Being from that area, it was heartbreaking. I texted Coach Capel after I let it all go in my room, and then I typed a thing out on Instagram, just saying thank you for what he did for me even though he has no idea how much of an impact he made on my life."
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Kobe where do I begin.. first off with thank you.. my mother used to tell me how I would sneak out of my crib and turn the Tv on when we lived in New York to watch you play.. with out question the reason why I wear this 24 on my chest l. When I was down on myself at charlotte and Junior college the only thing I would watch is your interviews.. listening to why you wore 24 because of the 24 hours in a day and how you would use them to better yourself.. Kobe I know you’re resting heaven.. my GOAT.. my Laker.. my hero in the game of basketball.. I only met you 3 times in my life , but you changed my life. The way I work how I work... The Mamba Mentality ❤️ My favorite player ever.. I’m lost for words. Just thank you for everything 🐍 ... my idol
"My favorite memory of Kobe is his final game. I was a senior in high school, and I can tell you exactly where I was sitting and everything. It was me and bunch of my boys, sitting in my friend's dining room. I can tell you what I was eating: a chicken parm sandwich. But it was rough. That day and a half was really rough. I'm not afraid to admit I broke down and was crying in my room and called one of my good friends, Keyshawn Johnson Jr., 'cause we were watching Kobe's last game together. When I hung up the phone, it hit me."
Murphy had a chance one time, because of a coaching connection, to work out in the Lakers' practice facility. He saw a personal holy grail: Bryant's locker.
"I met him three times. It wasn't anything crazy. The first time I ever met Kobe was the Lakers vs. Miami Heat on Christmas Day in 2010. 'Hey, I'm Ryan Murphy.' 'What's good, man? I'm Kobe.' Yeah, no shit! I just laughed and we dapped each other up. He's the reason why I wear 24. To me, that's my hero, him and my dad. That's the guy I would watch every night. I got to see him live at least 50 times, being in LA. Lakers games, that was LA. Everyone knew Kobe. You go to a Laker game to watch Kobe Bryant, to watch greatness."
Murphy recently tore up his Kobe 4s he loved playing in, but now he'll keep them forever -- along with more than 100 pairs of Kobe shoes he says he and his dad have collected over the years.
"As a player, I think he exemplified or showed what hard work and dedication looks like. I've watched the YouTube videos and heard the stories of 4 a.m. workouts and the off-the-court workout schedule, and that to me stuck out the most. Using his 24 hours different than other people. I know I certainly don't play like Kobe, but he's someone I modeled my game after. I wore the Hyperdunks he wore for Team USA. I got the Adidas Kobes when he was No. 8 and with Adidas. I got Kobes framed, that he signed, in my room. I currently am wearing Kobes now. I'm 2-4 all the way."
Vanderbilt sophomore Aaron Nesmith (Charleston, South Carolina)
Nesmith posts the best stats and might be the best player of anyone who wears No. 24: 23.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg and outrageous 52.2% 3-point accuracy. But Nesmith, a likely future NBA pick, has not played since Jan. 8 due to a stress fracture in his right foot. Nesmith's coach, Jerry Stackhouse, of course knew Bryant due to playing against him for 15 years.
"I feel like that one's of the moments with basketball people everywhere -- you'll never forget where you were when you heard the news. I was eating breakfast at one of my favorite spots, Sun and Fork, with my girlfriend and she showed me a TMZ picture. It looked fake. I literally laughed and said, 'It's fake. How are you going to believe that?' My earliest memory of Kobe is when he had 81 playing against the Raptors. That's when I started to learn about basketball, because I was a big football guy up until that point. Then I watched that game and was like, oh, this dude's really good. He was the first exposure to high-level basketball I had, and he was my aunt's favorite player. I was 8 years old and would hear about him a lot."
Nesmith would adopt No. 24 from late grade school on. With the exception of one year in middle school, when an older teammate refused to let him wear 24, Nesmith has worn the number on all teams he's been a part of.
"I'm definitely not going to change my number as long as I can. I'm going to always keep 24 no matter where I go or where I play. It means so much more now, obviously. I'm not a big sneaker guy but my favorite shoe to wear are Kobe 10s. They're the most comfortable shoe in my opinion, and when you play you want to be comfortable. They're light. I like wearing low-tops and they have a lot of cool designs on them. It's my type of shoe. I have multiple pairs. It was pretty much the only shoe I wore for all of last year and was the only shoe I wore in high school when I could. I beat my Kobe 10s into the ground."
Nesmith has had the benefit of watching and learning about the game while being pinned to the bench. On Monday, he began physical therapy with the hopes he might be able to play before the end of the season. Bryant's rehab process became the stuff of basketball legend, and Nesmith uses it in his push to return ASAP.
"Basketball can be taken away in the blink of an eye, and so can life. I've learned to try and learn more from the game and be an absolute student of the game in any way possible. One thing I read after Kobe's passing was that he read the entire NBA rulebook. All of it, like he knew where the refs had to stand and look, so if he needed to get away with a cheap foul, he'd know how to do it. That stuff is admirable. He lived the game because he knew it."
Villanova freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Overland Park, Kansas)
Robinson-Earl was a five-star prospect when he committed to Villanova, and has become one of the higher-profile freshmen in the sport this season. Robinson-Earl has an Instagram account -- with only three uploads. This is one of them, from just last week.
"I've not always worn 24 -- 10 has always been my number -- but since coming here, that number was taken so my next number has always been 24 because I've always loved Kobe Bryant as a player and he's always been my go-to guy. He's influenced me in pretty much every way, at least in basketball, off the court how to tackle things. We're different players, but I feel like his mindset can translate to any kind of player. So his Mamba Mentality has probably been the biggest thing to me on the court."
Robinson-Earl has been a fan of Kobe ever since elementary school, when he learned about him through biographies and projects for class. Over the weekend, when Creighton played at Villanova, there was another moment of silence for Bryant and the victims of the tragedy. Robinson-Earl believes wearing 24 shouldn't take on more meaning now that Bryant has passed, only that what he stood for is reflected in the inherent act of wearing the jersey.
"I knew he went to Lower Merion. I didn't know how close it was, so for it to be like five minutes away was pretty cool. I was pretty young when he [played in the NBA]. For me to even say, like, playing against the Finals against the Magic and the Celtics, I was still like 11, 12 and I remember always -- I've always been a Lakers fan for sure -- so I've always gravitated to watching him because of the Lakers. When I started taking basketball more seriously, in high school wanting to study players and what they contribute to the game, mentalities or footwork, anything possible, Kobe was that guy to me."
Louisville senior Dwayne Sutton (Louisville, Kentucky)
Louisville's veteran wing player has had Bryant on his mind, his jersey and his shoes for more than a week.
"I started wearing 24 when I arrived at Louisville. [I admired] his will to win. Kobe was someone who, no matter what it was, he was going to do it to win the game, whether it was scoring or playing defense. His passion for the game is unmatched. I remember watching his last game with my friends. It was unbelievable. It was amazing to see someone at his age score 60 that night. It's a lot different now, because 24 is a number everyone will remember and associate with Kobe. When you have that number on your back, you have to go out, play hard and have that Mamba Mentality, that killer instinct. I just want to go out, play hard and take pride in wearing this number from here out."
Sutton has not tweeted in more than a week. His most recent post is a screengrab of a text message from his cousin.
UC Irvine senior Eyassu Worku (Cerritos, California)
Born in Inglewood, and then a resident of Cerritos into his adolescence, Worku has been a diehard Bryant fan since elementary school. His Twitter feed -- complete with a Bryant header -- has been an ongoing tribute to Bryant for more than a week, even going with a black avatar in acknowledgement of all nine victims of the helicopter crash.
Worku was asleep when the news broke. He woke up in a panic to so many messages and missed calls on his phone, he began to "freak out," fearing he lost a family member after seeing the word 'died' show up in multiple messages scrolling across his phone.
"It was so surreal. The first thing I did, I called my assistant coach from high school and we talked about it. And then I went to the gym and just shot and shot and stayed in the gym with him. I realized Kobe was my favorite player in the 2010 Finals, game seven. He didn't have the best game but I thought he willed his team to win that game. I saw the look in his eyes. Being here in LA, obviously it's been a tragedy, but you can really feel the love he brought to LA. I've visited already, down at the memorial, to see the celebration at Staples Center and what people have done to show their appreciation."
Worku, a good player in the Big West (12.0 ppg, 4.0 apg) is taking the death of Bryant as hard, if not harder, than any player spoken to for this piece. And his appreciation and respect for wearing a uniform with the No. 24 on it rivals anyone you'll find at any level who also has that number.
"It's always been an honor to wear 24 throughout my life, but now there's more meaning to it. I play for him. He had that Mamba Mentality, and that's something I try bring, especially now. Being on this team, begin a captain. Right now, it's an honor to wear 24 and gives me more motivation to play even harder. I renewed my focus. I'm taking every game more seriously. Before reach game, I'll listen to a message he put out, to dive into the way he thinks. Being from SoCal, it was something special with me. My parents are from Ethiopia, and they never really knew the game of basketball. No one pushed me to keep playing the sport. Kobe pushed me. Seeing him, his desire, it's literally why I wear 24. The reason I keep playing basketball is because of him."