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

Jean Montero was 6 years old when basketball first caught his eye in Villa Juana, a sector in the city of Santo Domingo on the south side of the Dominican Republic where he grew up. Walking the streets on his way to his grandmother's house, he vividly remembers seeing Kobe Bryant playing on a television in a bodega.

It was the 2010 NBA Finals, and Bryant, he recalls, was captivating theater. Montero was instantly taken by the game as he watched from the street, and even more by the Lakers star who was on his way to winning Finals MVP in an eventual 4-3 series win over the Boston Celtics. 

So much that Montero wanted to change his identity. At such an impressionable age, Montero did not know basketball, nor did he know of Bryant's superstardom in the states. He knew one thing right away, though: He wanted to be Kobe. 

So he began calling himself Kobe to family and friends. He created a Facebook account not to check on friends, but to extoll the exceptionalism of Kobe's game. He posted Kobe highlights and spread the gospel of No. 24 to all who would listen. It was a biblical obsession; he was a disciple. 

"They won [the championship], so I was rocking with him because he was the best," Montero, now 18 and a potential first-round pick in this year's NBA Draft, said "That's when I started studying him and everything he did. I was watching highlights, games, whatever I could get my hands on. Anything he did I would watch."

For Montero, a youngster from a country whose sports passion – then and now – centers primarily around baseball, it fueled him. But he had no outlet to channel it through. In Villa Juana, resources were sparse for him to chase his newfound fascination.

It wasn't until he was 8 or 9 years old that he finally acted. He remembers telling his cousin that he wanted to play basketball and compete. At that time there was no place to follow through on that wish, but, turns out, you can't underestimate the creativity of a kid with an imagination and a little free time.

"We took the wheel off a bike, cleared out all the spokes and screwed the wheel onto wood so it would hang like a basketball goal," Montero said. "We used that wheel as a rim."

And so Montero's basketball career began. It wasn't much, but, finally, it was something. He had a hoop he could shoot on. He had a basketball. And on a rocky surface just outside his cousin's barbershop, he had what most would call a construction area – but what he called a court. That was enough.

He and his cousin Ricky loved to play. They lived to play. Ricky called himself James Harden. Even made himself a fake little Harden beard. Montero kept his Kobe Bryant moniker. The two would battle for hours on end. Even as Montero was emerging as a star locally, the two were inseparable.

That's about when everything changed. Ricky, long the older brother type who served as Montero's staunchest competitor, biggest fan and protector, tragically died when Montero was 13 years old.