HONOLULU -- D'Angelo Russell couldn’t help but stare at Kobe Bryant as the two practiced side by side Tuesday, when the Los Angeles Lakers opened training camp at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Stan Sheriff Center here.
“You try to keep it off your mind like, yo, this guy is not right beside you running the three-man drill,” said Russell, the Lakers’ No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft.
“Something you got to get past, if we want to be the best we can be. We’ve got to look at him as a mentor, not look at him as a fan [would].”
Russell was eight months and 11 days old when Bryant made his NBA debut, and now this could well be Bryant’s final NBA season, during which he’ll be expected to mentor the team’s young players, especially Russell.
“Just little details about the game here and there, but he loves the game, you know?” Bryant said of Russell. “When you have a player that loves the game it’s really just my responsibility to make sure he never loses sight of that. Through difficult moments and even the great moments, always just focus on the love of the game. Once you have that you’ll problem solve everything. Right? Once you stay focused on that. It’s my job to really keep him locked in.”
Bryant said he’s already been impressed by Russell.
“Great poise, he has a lot of poise out there, he’s very calm under duress,” Bryant said. “Doesn’t really seem fazed by much.”
And Russell has already been impressed by Bryant.
"I got here as early as everybody else,” Russell said. "And [Kobe Bryant] was already here."
Lakers coach Byron Scott is obviously pleased that Bryant can mentor Russell.
“He’s going to get some wisdom from one of the greatest players that ever played the game,” Scott said. “Kobe, obviously during the drills, is taking him to the side and talking to him and I saw that this morning. D’Angelo is one of those guys that’s a sponge. He wants to learn. That’s a great relationship to have and to be able to talk to somebody that’s been there so many times and been so successful.”
Scott praised Russell after the first day of camp.
“He looked good,” Scott said. “Conditioning-wise, he looked good. He shot the ball extremely well. On the defensive end, just working on some of the things that we want him to do on that end of the floor as far as communication and understanding to be back and where he needs to be were good. For a first day overall with D’Angelo and some of our young people and overall just the team, I was very happy.”
For Russell, the first practice came after a restless night because he was too eager to get back on the court.
“I couldn’t sleep last night, I woke up really early just ready to get here. I know Kobe got here early. I know I plan on getting here early also. It was like the first day of school honestly.”
That first day featured plenty of running, too. Scott pushed the team hard in conditioning drills, but he said he was happy with how everyone performed.
“I would say half the guys were in great shape, or in terrific shape, and the other half were in very good shape,” Scott said. “So there was not one person where I said, he didn’t come ready for camp, which is a good thing.”
It was also unusual, Scott added.
“Usually I have a couple guys that are throwing up, falling out. They went longer. We put 20 minutes on the clock and I said, if we get to 15, we can probably stop it, but I made them go a little bit longer and everybody was good.”
For Scott, it’s also part of a new approach for the Lakers this season.
“If we’re going to lose some games this year, it’s not going to be because we’re not in shape -- a lack of condition,” Scott said. “If we’re going to lose games, it’s going to be because some teams are just better than we were that night. But the one thing I want our team to be is, in that fourth quarter, I want our team to be strong mentally as well as physically and then we’ll see what happens.”
Russell jokes that he always views running as punishment, which might leave a sour taste in his mouth in terms of how he views Hawaii -- at least for now.
"Getting through the week, I probably wouldn’t want to come back, knowing that it’s a lot of running," Russell said. "That won’t get past me. If I come back it would have to be with my family and no basketball shoes. Just take it as vacation."