Gianna Bryant's Dream School, UConn, Honors 13-Year-Old Player with Her Own Huskies Jersey
"Mambacita is forever a Husky," the women's basketball team wrote on Twitter on Monday night
At the University of Connecticut women’s basketball game Monday night, a seat was reserved on the team bench for Gianna “Gigi” Bryant, who dreamed of one day playing as a Husky herself.
The team’s Twitter account shared a photo of the tribute to Gianna, who died at just 13 years old on Sunday with her dad, the Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, 41, and seven other passengers in a helicopter crash on their way to a basketball tournament.
UConn created a special Huskies jersey with Gianna’s No. 2 emblazoned on the front, which was laid next to a bouquet of white roses and daisies tied with a blue bow.
“Mambacita is forever a Husky,” the team wrote alongside the photo, using Gianna’s nickname.
On Sunday, the team shared their grief after the news of Gianna and Bryant’s tragic, sudden deaths.
“Kobe and Gianna meant a lot to our program. Our thoughts are with the Bryant family,” the team wrote on Twitter, sharing a photo of the father-daughter duo wearing matching UConn gear. “Mamba Mentality will live on forever, but they are deeply missed.”
Bryant was reportedly a friend of UConn coach Geno Auriemma, whom Gianna dreamed of playing for one day.
“She is hellbent on UConn,” Bryant said in 2018.
“My daughter loves Gabby Williams, absolutely loves Gabby, loves [all of them],” Bryant told the Hartford Courant that year. “She watches their interviews, watches how they play and learns — not just in wins, but in tough losses, how they conduct themselves. It’s great, as a parent, to be able to see my daughter pull inspiration from them.”
Williams has since graduated from UConn and now plays for the Chicago Sky.
“From what I saw, she was going to be heaps better than me,” Gianna’s hero said on Monday, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “She had the right mentality, so confident, relentless, so mean and aggressive.”
“And then [she would] walk off the court with the biggest, sweetest smile on her face. But my favorite part about her was just seeing how much she loved the game and loved to learn,” Williams continued, adding that Gianna “embraced” her dad’s legacy.
“It’s intimidating to have to follow in those footsteps. But she really embraced it,” the WNBA player said.
A source told PEOPLE on Monday that Gianna was shaping up to play just like her legendary dad.
“Having kids to get to play the sport was huge for him,” a former business associate of Bryant’s said. “He always said he’d continue the game rather he had a son or a daughter. He was blessed enough to have four daughters and Gigi, God bless her soul, loved the sport.”
“She was actually playing just like him. I just saw video of her playing a couple weeks ago, and she literally did the same exact fade away. Everyone was like ‘That’s Kobe’s girl,’” the source added.
Bryant spoke often about his daughter’s love and talent for the game.
“[Gianna]’s pretty fierce. She loves playing, she loves shooting. She came to me last summer and asked if I would teach her the game a little bit, so she really just started playing, but she picked up things innately,” he told Extra in July 2017.
The following year, he told Jimmy Kimmel that Gianna was confident in her dreams to play for the WNBA.
“[Gianna] will be standing next to me, and [fans] will be like, ‘You gotta have a boy. You and [wife Vanessa] gotta have a boy, you gotta have somebody carry on the tradition, the legacy,’” Bryant said. “And she’s like, ‘Oh! I got this. Don’t need no boy for that! I got this.’”
Bryant is survived by wife Vanessa, 37, and their three daughters Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 months.