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With co-ed hoops camp coming to D.C., Stephen Curry has Kobe and Gianna Bryant on his mind

Stephen Curry shared a love of women's basketball with Kobe Bryant. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

Stephen Curry’s favorite memory of Kobe Bryant wasn’t a buzzer-beater or a dunk. It was a compliment.

The Golden State Warriors’ two-time MVP was just a 21-year-old rookie in 2010, facing questions about his size, style of play and small-school background. Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers legend who died last month in a helicopter crash, was headed toward his second consecutive title. As Curry remembers it, the Lakers were closing out a win over the Warriors in Oakland when he hit a “shoulder shimmy off-the-glass” shot.

“They panned to [Bryant] on the bench watching,” Curry recalled in a phone interview Tuesday. “He mouthed to whoever was sitting next to him, ‘Yo, he’s nice.’ I saw that clip afterward, and I cracked a big smile knowing Kobe was impressed with what I was doing on the court as a rookie. That moment was invaluable in building my confidence. He was always great at validating the next generation of talent. Once he took an interest in you, you had to know you were doing something right.”

Throughout his career, Curry has tried to pay forward experiences such as that by hosting youth basketball camps. He launched the Underrated Tour last year to provide a showcase for high school players who were overlooked by the traditional rankings system, and the second rendition of the co-ed camp will hold a regional tour stop in the District on March 14 and 15, inviting 75 boys and 75 girls.

“I was underrated, I was a three star, and I don’t even know if I was ranked,” Curry said of his own prep career. “I wouldn’t have been invited to my own camp. I was looking for a way to reach out to underrated recruits, who have all the game in the world, and give them an opportunity to get their name out there. There’s always going to be rankings. That’s not going anywhere. It’s about how you can help kids build confidence at a delicate age and help them compete for Division I scholarships.”

The Underrated Tour will hold regional stops in Chicago, Dallas, the District. and Los Angeles before eight boys and eight girls from each regional proceed to a final tournament in the Bay Area in April. There will be separate boys’ and girls’ divisions composed of at least 300 high school athletes total. The application deadline for interested D.C.-area high school players is Friday.

While Curry honed his signature ballhandling, three-point shooting and work ethic by watching Steve Nash, Reggie Miller and Michael Jordan as a teenager, he hesitated when asked whether there is a rising “Curry Generation” of three-point marksmen coming up through the ranks.

“I’m not getting that old where I’ve got a generation of kids,” the 31-year-old point guard quipped. “They call it that ‘ruin the game’ mentality — that comment [by ESPN commentator Mark Jackson] where kids just want to launch 40-footers. To me, it’s amazing that people are trying to stretch their imagination on the court and where their range is at, but it has to come with understanding the process and how you have to work on your game to get to that point. Now we’re so visible, hopefully the kids get to see the work we put in and that inspires them even more.”

When Curry says kids, he means both boys and girls. He first took notice of the women’s game as a child in North Carolina, and he has watched with interest as the WNBA’s profile has grown in recent years.

Of course, he has an obvious personal connection thanks to his two daughters, 7-year-old Riley and 4-year-old Ryan.

“Selfishly, I want my girls to play basketball,” Curry said. “But neither one of them has taken to it yet, so I’m still staying patient. The camp is more so about knowing that I can help and knowing how good the girls’ game of basketball is. There needs to be more awareness of the girls’ game, and with awareness comes more opportunity. We see that reflected in what’s happening with the WNBA, increasing their pay and strengthening their CBA. That will be a great north star for girls who want to hoop.”

Curry, who has been sidelined since October with a broken left hand, returned to practice with the Warriors this week. He still “has a few hurdles to clear” and has yet to participate in a full-contact practice, but he remains on track for a March 1 return against the Washington Wizards at Chase Center in San Francisco.

Although he was able to spend the all-star break on a family vacation for the first time in years, Curry said that his thoughts in recent weeks have often turned to Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, who was also killed in the crash. He counts an autographed All-Star Game jersey and sneakers he acquired during Bryant’s 2016 farewell tour among his most prized possessions, and he recently watched ESPN anchor Elle Duncan’s viral “Girl Dad” tribute to Bryant.

“That’s the worst tragedy I’ve seen in terms of how visible his love for his daughters was,” Curry said of the Bryants’ deaths. “How Gigi would go to play every chance she could get and emulate his stuff. How excited he looked to be on the sideline coaching. I’ve seen it up close. I met both of them many times and took pictures at All-Star Games.

“It makes me appreciate the father-daughter connection, the joy that being a father of daughters brings on a daily basis. You don’t need any more reason to not to take it for granted, but that definitely hit home for sure.”

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