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Kobe Bryant lends a guiding hand to the next generation

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    The L.A. Lakers basketball team held their first practice of the season Tuesday at the Stan Sheriff Center on the UH-Manoa campus. Veteran guard Kobe Bryant, who was sidelined with injury last season, answered questions from the media after practice.
  • who was sidelined with injury last season

Down and back, down and back went the Los Angeles Lakers across the “H” of the Stan Sheriff Center hardwood.

Well, most of them. There was a notable exception to the conditioning drill. Where was Kobe Bryant?

The Lakers superstar was out of sight by the time a crush of local media was granted access to the end of Los Angeles’ first day of training camp at the University of Hawaii on Tuesday. And when it’s everyone but Kobe — as the Lakers found last year in struggling to a 21-61 record with Bryant sidelined most of the way with a shoulder injury — it’s immediately noticeable.

Practice was ending and still no Bryant. And … Wait! There he was, leaning against one of the lower bowl rails in the arena.

The magnetic effect was immediate. The media horde converged in a ravenous semicircle, hungry for snippets after Bryant’s first Hawaii camp session in eight long years.

The 37-year-old Kobe, fresh off rehabilitating a torn rotator cuff, obliged with a calm that suggested he was far too used to such insanity. He was a lightning rod during the Lakers’ camps in 2003 and 2005 especially.

“A lot of great memories here,” Bryant said. “Eight years ago … it doesn’t seem that way. Time went by really fast.”

He smiled at his recollection of his first camp his rookie year of 1996.

“I felt like a local from Day 1,” he said.

The 20-year veteran and third-leading scorer in NBA history is the only constant on the Lakers roster from their 2007 appearance against the Golden State Warriors.

New blood even from a year ago dots the roster. Offseason acquisitions Roy Hibbert and Lou Williams were on hand, as was veteran Metta World Peace, making a return to the Purple and Gold after helping them win the title in 2010.

Guard D’Angelo Russell, the second overall pick out of Ohio State, is the prized first-year pickup. But forward Julius Randle is also basically a rookie after breaking his leg in last year’s season opener and missing the rest of the season.

Old and new alike got a good sweat on Day 1 while still feeling each other out.

“It was like the first day of school, honestly,” Russell said.

Perhaps the biggest question hanging over this Lakers season is whether it will be Bryant’s last. Bryant hasn’t been committal on that, but said Tuesday he felt a responsibility to help shepherd the team’s younger generation to success.

“I think we got some guys here this year who can really take a load off me,” Bryant said. “D’Angelo, (Jordan) Clarkson, their ability to handle and create, and make plays, Julius making plays … I think the minutes I do play won’t be as heavy as they have been in the past.”

There are other reminders of the Lakers’ glory days. Longtime trainer Gary Vitti attended to various players. Coach Byron Scott held court at midcourt. James Worthy, just picked up as an assistant before the trip, worked with big men Randle, Hibbert, Brandon Bass and Robert Sacre.

Scott was around for many of the team’s previous 12 camps in Hawaii.

“I know for Jim and Jeanie, the Buss family, this was always a special place when we had training camp here,” Scott said. “It still is — that’s why we’re back. For me, it was always great to get away from Los Angeles for a little while and focus and concentrate on the things you had to do in training camp.”

Bryant, renowned for his work ethic, was apparently no slouch in setting the tone for the youngsters.

“He looked great,” Scott said. “I told him I’m not surprised, but I’m surprised at how great his conditioning was. … He was ahead of the pack in a bunch of things we did this morning, along with (second-year guard) Jordan Clarkson, who seems like he never gets out of shape.”

Bryant’s work regimen will be closely monitored by the team over the course of this camp. He isn’t expected to practice in more than one of a given day’s two-a-day sessions leading up to Sunday’s 3 p.m. exhibition against the Utah Jazz and the Tuesday rematch.

Bryant said he feels obligated to play in as many of the team’s eight preseason games as possible — it just likely won’t be a heavy workload on any given night.

“When I’m out there and I’m playing, I’m giving 110 percent. That’s what you gotta do,” he said. “Fifteen minutes, 20 minutes, 10 minutes. It’s my job to approach it with playoff intensity and playoff focus. If I can go, I will definitely play. I’m sure we’ll limit minutes, things of that nature. It’s definitely my responsibility to step out there and play.”

The Jazz are practicing back in their home state. They aren’t slated to arrive until Saturday.

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