2022 NBA Draft: Jean Montero went from idolizing Kobe Bryant in the Dominican Republic to the first pick in the Overtime Elite

Jean Montero was 6 years old when basketball first caught his attention in Villa Juana, the area of ​​the city of Santo Domingo in the south of the Dominican Republic, where he grew up. As he walks the streets on his way to his grandmother’s house, he vividly remembers seeing Kobe Bryant playing on TV in the wine cellar. It was the 2010 NBA Finals, and Bryant, he recalls, was a captivating theatre. Montero was instantly captivated by the game as he watched from the street, and even more so by the Lakers star, who was well on her way to winning the Finals MVP in an eventual 4-3 series win over the Boston Celtics.

So much so that Montero wanted to change his personality.

At such an impressionable age, Montero knew neither basketball nor Bryant’s statewide superstardom. However, he immediately realized one thing: he wanted to be Kobe. So he started calling himself Kobe around his family and friends. He created the Facebook account not to check on friends, but to extol the exclusivity of Kobe’s game. He published highlights of Kobe and distributed Gospel No. 24 to anyone who wanted to listen to it. It was a biblical obsession; he was a student.

“They won [the championship], so I hung around with him because he was the best,” said Montero, who is now 18 and could be selected in the first round of this year’s NBA draft. “That’s when I started to study him and everything he did. I watched highlights, games, everything I could get my hands on. Whatever he did, I would watch.”

For Montero, a youth from the country whose athletic passion—then and now—focused primarily on baseball, it fueled him. But he had no way out to channel it through himself. In Villa Juana, he had few resources to pursue his newfound passion.

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It wasn’t until he was 8 or 9 years old that he finally started to act. He remembers telling his cousin that he wanted to play basketball and compete. At that time, there was nowhere to fulfill this desire, but it turns out that the creativity of a child with imagination and a little free time cannot be underestimated.

“We took the wheel off the bike, cleaned all the spokes, and bolted the wheel to a tree so it would hang like a basketball goal,” Montero said. “We used this wheel as a rim.”

Thus began Montero’s basketball career. It wasn’t long, but finally it was something. He had a hoop from which he could shoot. He had a basketball. And on the rocky surface next to his cousin’s barbershop, he had what most would call a construction site, but what he called a yard. That was enough.

He and his cousin Ricky loved to play. They are lived play. Ricky called himself James Harden. He even got himself a fake Harden beard. Montero retained his Kobe Bryant moniker. These two will fight for hours on end. Even when Montero became a local star, they were inseparable.

Around that time everything changed. Ricky, a longtime older brother who was Montero’s staunchest competitor, big fan and protector, tragically died when Montero was 13 years old.

Ricky dreamed that Montero would make Villa Juana proud of this place and make this place famous on the map. They often talked about the fact that one day Montero would earn a place in the national team, that he might turn professional.

“Then, when I was 13, I made the national team,” Montero said. “I remember [Ricky] told me how proud he would be if I got into the national team. And in the same year he was killed. I was so proud to go and do it. . . I used to wear his number.”

Montero has made a name for himself on his way up in basketball with the national team and in tournaments. And good too. He always played against older players, but almost always played like a veteran. He was proud of the way he played defense. He liked to involve his teammates with passes. And boy, he could score it. Over time, he developed a maturity beyond his years to walk with overwhelming confidence between his ears.

“I kicked everyone’s ass in practice,” Montero said.

And the ascent did not stop. He turned professional at the age of 15. By the age of 16, he had blossomed at Gran Canaria and developed into an NBA talent. Last year, at just 17 years old, he became the first international player to sign with the Overtime Elite, a fledgling professional league that serves as an alternative to prepare players for the NBA. At every turn, even as the youngest player on almost every team, he produced.

“I went to Mexico and trained there at the NBA Academy. People who were much older than me, some were in college – and I was a better player,” says Montero. “It helped me prepare for the Overtime job. I always had to be more mature and grow up fast. I love the competition and the challenge.”

From a gravel court and homemade rim on the streets of Villa Juan, Montero blasted his way into the NBA stratosphere as a potential first-round pick on Thursday (he’s predicted to be the Warriors’ 28th pick in my last draft imitation) despite many circumstances. It’s a stunning story for those who don’t know him, but expected for those who do. A young guy who could confidently knock spokes out of a bicycle rim at a young age just to design his own ring for fun, it’s no wonder he wanted to be one of the youngest and most enticing talents in the draft, and you can point that out. the confidence he exudes in himself as one of the contributing factors that he has made it this far.

“I’m so confident in myself,” Montero said. “People will talk their shit and doubt because sometimes people are like that. Every time I had a problem, it turned into an opportunity for me, and I made the most of it.”

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