Gianna among 3 girls to be honorary WNBA picks

    Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.

Gianna Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, who were among nine killed in a January helicopter crash that also claimed the life of Kobe Bryant, will be honorary selections in Friday’s WNBA draft, according to Gianna’s mother, Vanessa.

Vanessa Bryant posted a message on Instagram on Friday listing the three girls as the “class of 2024.”

The girls, all 13 years old at the time, were passengers on the helicopter as it traveled to a basketball game at Kobe Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in California on Jan. 26.

The WNBA had said it planned to honor the memory of the three young teammates during the draft, which is being held virtually in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Gianna, known as Gigi, made no secret of her desire to one day follow her father’s footsteps in professional basketball and play in the WNBA. Kobe and Gianna were frequently spotted at WNBA, NBA and college games.

Altobelli and Chester were similarly remembered for their passion for basketball. Both played alongside Gianna for the team coached by her father. As the Orange County Register reported at the time of their deaths, both hoped to continue playing the sport in college. Altobelli, in particular, hoped to play for Oregon, a program that is likely to have three players drafted in Friday’s first round.

Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu, expected to be the New York Liberty’s choice as the No. 1 overall pick, was friends with Kobe Bryant and his family and spoke at the memorial service for Kobe and Gianna.

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