MANILA, Philippines -- Filipino-American player Vanessa de Jesus, who is set to play collegiate basketball for Duke University, will never forget the time she met the legendary Kobe Bryant.
De Jesus, 18, got to work with the Los Angeles Lakers legend as a sophomore in the Mamba Sports Academy, which Bryant opened in 2018 as a multisport training facility.
"I was able to work (with him). I came by Kobe in one of his camps, and my club team, we were able to play or practice with his daughter's team, with Gigi and the Mamba girls," de Jesus recalled.
For de Jesus, who wound up as the 37th ranked recruit in her class, getting to learn from one of the game's greats was a priceless experience.
"Just hearing from him, beyond the court, Kobe is, like his mentality and just understanding the game, it's unreal. And he's such an amazing person, actually. Like you see how he is like off-camera, it's just, he's even better than you think," she said.
"And also his work ethic, I just think he's an amazing person and such an intelligent man overall. I'm just blessed, with him I learned a little bit about basketball," de Jesus added.
Bryant had turned to coaching upon his retirement from the Lakers, putting special focus on training the team of his teenage daughter, Gianna, fondly known as Gigi.
They were on their way to a game at the Mamba Sports Academy when the helicopter they were riding crashed in the hills of Calabasas, California. Bryant and Gianna, along with seven other people on board, died in the crash.
His death had a profound impact on de Jesus, especially after seeing how much Bryant cared about women's basketball.
"I think he was really gonna make a change, and just all of his support from his daughter and (New York Liberty rookie) Sabrina (Ionescu) and other women's basketball (players)," de Jesus said.
"It was really tragic, what happened, and surprising. He's an amazing person," she added. "I was lucky I was able to witness him playing and being able to get the chance to actually meet him was like a dream come true."
De Jesus hopes to bring the lessons she learned from Bryant and her other coaches to Duke University, where she will play starting November.
"Duke was one of my dream schools from the beginning, so that was a no-brainer for me," said de Jesus.