(Reuters) – Stunned though he was that Phil Jackson has not returned as Los Angeles Lakers head coach, All-Star guard Kobe Bryant said yesterday he was excited about the prospect of playing under new appointee Mike D’Antoni.
The Lakers shocked the basketball world on Monday when they named former Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks coach D’Antoni to replace the fired Mike Brown while overlooking the heavily favoured Jackson, an 11-time NBA championship winner.
“We were all thinking it was gonna be Phil,” Bryant told reporters after taking part in a Lakers shoot-around. “It probably caught Mike a little bit off guard, too.
“But I’m excited. I spoke to Mike (on the phone) this morning. It was great. It was really short, just ‘hello’.”
While Bryant has deep affection for the ice-cool “Zen Master” Jackson after winning five NBA titles in Lakers colors with the veteran coach, he also holds D’Antoni in high esteem.
A 14-time All-Star, Bryant was a huge fan as a child of D’Antoni’s basketball play in Italy, where he grew up, and later got to know him well when D’Antoni was an assistant coach on the U.S. national team.