CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Lakers' Kobe Bryant got a warm reception from the crowd on the Iolani School campus as the team began practice while the Golden State Warriors worked out in Laie.
Lakers, Warriors open up camps
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The Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors opened their training camps on Oahu yesterday to divergent receptions.
On the Iolani School campus, the Lakers left the school's gym following their first practice greeted by a lively crowd of students eager to catch a glimpse of the NBA players, particularly perennial All-Star Kobe Bryant.
"This has always been a place that's supportive of us," Bryant said before making his exit, to the delight of the students extending their lunch breaks.
Over in Laie, the scene was considerably more subdued as the Warriors quietly wrapped up their initial workout of camp at the Cannon Activities Center on the Brigham Young-Hawaii campus.
Training camp represents a fresh start for the Lakers and Warriors, both looking to improve on 42-40 seasons. The Warriors, the darlings of last year's playoffs following a historic first-round upset of top-seeded Dallas, won't sneak up on anybody this season as they work to replace the contributions of popular guard Jason Richardson, who was traded in the offseason. Bryant returned to the Lakers despite stating that he wanted to be traded during the summer.
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CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Lakers coach Phil Jackson and his team are back in Hawaii to prepare for their season.
Lakers begin campaign in Iolani’s small gym
This was far from a typical lunch hour on the Iolani School campus.
Outside the school's gym, an enthusiastic yet well-behaved group of students crowded around barriers as they strained for a glimpse of the players inside.
Behind the doors, the squeaking of sneakers and thumping of basketballs tantalized the teens as the Los Angeles Lakers began preparations for the new season in their first practice of training camp.
Once the Lakers finished their workout, the buzz grew as players made their way to the buses past the students, most with camera phones at the ready. And as Kobe Bryant answered questions from the assembled local and mainland media, the chants calling for the NBA star could be heard through the door.
Finally, the two-time defending scoring champion was the last Laker to emerge from the gym, raising his arms to acknowledge to a raucous welcome.
"It was awesome, words can't describe it," said sophomore Kainoa Chu, a shooting guard with the Raiders basketball team who showed up yesterday wearing a replica of Bryant's No. 10 Team USA jersey. "I'm a huge fan, ever since I was 10 years old. It's amazing ... especially practicing in the gym we practice in every day."
With the remnants of last weekend's Toyota dealers convention still being cleared out of the Stan Sheriff Center and the Rainbow Wahine volleyball team in action on Friday and Sunday, the Lakers are splitting their practices between Iolani and UH over the next week in their biennial visit for training camp.
Their stay concludes with exhibition games with the Golden State Warriors next Tuesday and Thursday at the Sheriff Center.
For the Iolani students, yesterday's opening session offered a chance to see the Lakers close up. For the Lakers, the road to improving on a 42-40 season that ended with a loss to the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs began in the cozy confines of a high school gym.
"It's really kind of a good feeling because this is a lot of where basketball comes from, where we started off as players, in small gyms like this," coach Phil Jackson said. "I don't think the guys mind it that much."
Whether Bryant would be back for another training camp visit was in question over the course of an eventful offseason that included his voicing a desire to be traded. But he made the trip with the team and the Lakers took the court yesterday ready to leave the controversy behind and continue the process of preparing for season.
"It's easy to get past that," center Andrew Bynum said. "We just want to win. Everybody in the organization will be happy if we win."
Though far from their Los Angeles home, holding training camp here has its advantages, both in scenery and team building.
"One thing about being on the road is you get a chance to kind of bond together as a unit and have more team cohesiveness," said Bryant, entering his 12th season with the franchise. "When you practice at home everybody kind of goes and does their separate things. But on the road, you bond together and little bit more."
On the court, Bryant kept busy by playing for the U.S. national team in the FIBA Americas tournament, helping the U.S. secure a spot in the Beijing Olympics. Though the tournament added to his playing schedule he said it didn't wear him down entering camp.
"My body feels good," he said. "I feel in good rhythm already, now it's just about working the kinks out and getting a rhythm down with the offense."
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Karl returns to Hawaii as a Laker
The Stan Sheriff Center doesn't house many pleasant memories for Coby Karl.
The former Boise State guard finished his college career last March never having won on the University of Hawaii campus and returns to the arena this week, this time as a rookie with the Los Angeles Lakers.
"All I remember from my career when I was playing here is we had four tough losses," Karl said yesterday after his first practice with the Lakers at Iolani School. "The last game we played here was (former UH coach) Riley Wallace's last game and they beat us up pretty good.
"I had my first start in Hawaii as a freshman and I think I've come a long way from that year to now."
Karl was a first-team All-Western Athletic Conference selection last season, averaging 14.8 points and 4.1 rebounds as a senior, and signed a free-agent contract with the Lakers in July.
Karl made it through two bouts with cancer -- he had his thyroid gland removed after his junior year -- to complete his Boise State career and take his shot at the NBA with the Lakers.
"As of now everything's fine," said Karl, the son of Denver Nuggets coach George Karl. "My doctor said everything's good. I just take it day-by-day, right now I'm optimistic."
High praise from Baron
Two-time NBA all-star Baron Davis
has been around enough great players during his nine-year career that he knows talent when he sees it.
That's why it's hard not to listen when he heaps heavy praise on 21-year-old center Andris Biedrins.
"I think he can be an all-star center in the Western Conference," Davis said.
Biedrins was Golden State's first-round pick in the 2004 draft out of Latvia and had a breakout season a year ago.
He established career highs in almost every statistical category and averaged 9.5 points and 9.3 rebounds a game. As a starter, he averaged a double-double.
"We wouldn't have made the playoffs without him," Davis said.
In his fourth year as a Warrior, Biedrins is still younger than four of the five rookies in camp.
The Wright move
Yesterday marked the first time 19-year-old rookie Brandan Wright
got the chance to show teammates and coaches his decision to turn pro after one year in college was worth it.
Wright sat out the entire summer league with a hip injury, but says he is ready for camp.
"I feel good and ready to go," Wright said. "It was good to get up and down a little bit."
Wright passed up a chance to return to North Carolina and was selected eighth overall in the draft by Charlotte. Hours later, he was traded to the Warriors.
"It was like boom, boom, boom," Wright said. "But I was real happy with the situation I fell into."