By Kate Raddatz

HOPKINS, Minn. (WCCO) — Hopkins High School basketball star Paige Bueckers has been playing basketball as long as she can remember.

The nation’s top women’s high school basketball player was inspired as a child by Kobe Bryant. She’d watch him play, along with her dad.

“I would definitely say his work ethic [inspired me],” Bueckers said.” Just the stuff he did for the game, he cared about the game a lot.”

Bueckers learned the news of Bryant’s death Sunday scrolling through social media. She was stunned.

“I definitely started crying,” Bueckers said. “Just knowing that he was gone and it was real.”

Bueckers and Bryant had exchanged messages on social media recently about a workout this summer as part of her preparation for her college basketball career.

“He followed me on Instagram and I freaked out,” she said. “He’s worked out with some of my USA teammates and he’s just a huge supporter of the women’s game.”

After Bryant’s death, Bueckers pulled out a pair of customized Nike Kobe sneakers that a friend made for her. She plans to wear them at a game Tuesday night against Minnetonka High School.

“To honor him,” she said.

Bueckers has already committed to play for the UConn Huskies in the fall.

Kate Raddatz