In December of 2016, the Ceres Courier published an article about Dan Pangrazio.
Pangrazio, who was principal at Central Valley High School at the time, revisited the past while talking about his experiences of playing prep hoops together with former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant in the 1990s.
On Sunday, Pangrazio found out 41-year-old Bryant died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people.
Pangrazio, 40, had just returned home from running errands when he received a text message from a friend.
“It was pretty surreal,” said Pangrazio, assistant superintendent of Business Services for Ceres Unified School District. “Shock and sadness is the feeling. You don’t expect things like this to happen to anybody. It’s very tragic.”
Pangrazio and Bryant were teammates for two seasons at Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia.
Pangrazio was a starter his freshman and sophomore years.
Led by Bryant, Lower Merion won the PIAA Class AAAA state championship in 1996.
Pangrazio was a key contributor.
He averaged 14 points per game as a perimeter threat as reported by Philadelphia Inquirer correspondent Jeremy Treatman in a Dec. 9, 1997 article.
Pangrazio witnessed Bryant’s greatness up close.
“I got to play in more than 60 games with him,” he said. “You could see back then he was going to have an unbelievable career. There wasn’t a moment where he wasn’t giving every bit of himself. His competitiveness, work ethic and drive were unmatched. That combination doesn’t come around very often.”
Pangrazio didn’t keep in touch with Bryant when he joined the professional ranks.
But he rooted from afar as Bryant inspired a generation of basketball players worldwide.
“It was cool to watch him achieve his dream,” Pangrazio said. “He wanted to win championships. That’s what he wanted above everything else.”
Bryant, who entered the NBA straight out of high school, retired from the league at the end of the 2015-16 season.
He helped lead the Los Angeles Lakers to five championships during his 20-year career.
The NBA’s fourth, all-time leading scorer will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this August.
“When I watched LeBron James break his all-time scoring record Saturday night, it took me back to one of our games in high school,” Pangrazio said. “Kobe surpassed Wilt Chamberlain’s scoring record (for the Southeastern Pennsylvania area). The announcer stopped the game. It was a lot of fun being on the court with him and watching him play. He was super competitive and very focused, but never a detriment to the team. He made us better. He pushed us.”