STROUDSBURG, Pa. — There are only a few thousand people in this world who can say they played basketball against the legendary Kobe Bryant.
Tarik El-Bassiouni of Stroudsburg is one of them. He played against Bryant in 1996 when the Stroudsburg Mountaineers played Lower Merion during a state quarterfinal game at Martz Hall in Pottsville.
“He was a serious competitor, very competitive. Rightfully confident and I can’t say anything negative. He was just really, really good and we knew it. Kudos to him,” said Tarik El-Bassiouni, Stroudsburg.
Stroudsburg High School lost that game, 71-54.
Kobe and Lower Merion went on to win a state title.
Shawn Thornton was the Head Coach of the Mountaineers at the time.
“We prepared for him to be as spectacular as he was, and he didn’t disappoint anyone in the game. One of the things that he exemplified in the game was exactly what he exemplified through his whole career. He didn’t take any plays off. A lot of star players do but he was always someone who didn’t. He was also very gracious in his victory and I’m sure he’s been the same way in defeat,” said Shawn Thornton, former Stroudsburg High School head basketball coach.
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Gary Bloss was in the crowd, cheering on his stepson who played for Stroudsburg. He remembers how strong Kobe’s game was even back then.
“He was a one-man show, really. Lower Merion might not appreciate me saying that. I think we almost beat them as a team, but Kobe was an amazing player and a really nice guy,” said Bloss.
The sudden and tragic loss of Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, and seven others in a helicopter crash in California, has left many people with heavy hearts, especially those who rubbed elbows with Kobe.
“It hit me differently. I was surprised how it hit me. Number one, just because of the connection we had. It was such a special moment for Stroudsburg playing against him in that game and the whole season. So that hit me but then taking a step further knowing the connection he had with his daughter, her being in the crash as well, as a father, that struck me,” said El-Bassiouni.