Waking up at dawn to work out. First in, last out. Playing through an injury. No excuses, no days off. Giving it everything you’ve got. And then giving some more. This is the language of Mamba Mentality.
To celebrate Mamba Mentality Week, SLAM Philippines tells the stories of five athletes who have something in common: they all speak the same language as the legendary Kobe Bryant.
“What is your deepest fear? That you’re inadequate? Give up Mr. Cruz.”
The question echoed in the dark, musty gym of the Richmond Oilers. Kenny Ray Carter, or simply Coach Carter, taunted guard Timo Cruz as he was completing 2,500 push-ups – a challenge set by the coach to test the troubled Cruz in his attempt to return to the team. Cruz simply shook off the question and proceeded with the challenge.
While 2,500 push-ups and 1,000 suicides done in a span of three days may be a nightmare, that was merely a snapshot of Carter’s disciplinarian tutelage. Before his time at Richmond’s, the team was a train wreck: season after season, they were often at the bottom of national rankings with a defunct system that led its already struggling players further astray. However, Carter’s strict, no-nonsense approach to the game of basketball transformed the team from a lost cause to a high school basketball powerhouse in a snap. His words of affirmation and actions of conviction emanated with the team; in his journey to winning, Coach Carter only manifested one thing: passion.
“What is your deepest fear?”
Asked Carter again to Cruz, this time, a week later as the point guard went towards his way to the court. Cruz had embraced all the challenges set by his coach to posit his return to the team, but this was a question that he had kept avoiding.
If Coach Carter had asked Camille Clarin, however, it would have been a totally different story. She would have had an answer prepared by the opening frames of the movie. Lights on. End scene. Roll credits.
Camille manifests what Carter manifested: passion. “If I’m the one bringing myself down, then what’s the point? It’s not gonna be any easier,” shares Clarin on what keeps her focused. “Because I couldn’t control anything outside of my own body. I could control what I did to help it, but realistically, I was in a place where I could improve the way I wanted to. Kind of like I had to be realistic with myself that it would take time. It would take constant work, but if there was something I wanted to do, then I just had to put my mind towards it.”
It’s this passion that makes Camille one of the most tantalizing young ballers in the country right now. The 5’10” shooting guard came home last year as a highly-touted rookie, being a versatile player with a knack for the three-point shot and having played in North America for all her life. She enjoyed a dream rookie season for the dominant National University Lady Bulldogs: 16-0, a championship, and a significant role as one of the league’s standout rookies for Season 82. Right before that though, she bagged the bronze at the FIBA 3×3 U18 Cup, the country’s first podium finish in the women’s division. In completely unfamiliar circumstances, Clarin’s passion shone through.
But if there was someone who knew a thing or two about maintaining one’s passion for the game, it was Kobe Bryant, and Camille attributes her hardened mentality to Bryant’s very own Mamba Mentality. “I feel like the Mamba Mentality is just kind of … it’s accessible. You know, it’s not something that’s difficult to comprehend. It’s simple. You just tell yourself to be better every single day. Be better than you were the day before,” explains Camille. “That’s what I needed to tell myself because my recovery process was so difficult.”
Camille was referring to her road to recovery from a torn ACL she suffered in a Filipino tournament a few years back, just before starting her high school stint for the New Jersey-based Blair Academy. “So I went there [Blair] for training camp for 2 weeks. And then I came back home [in Canada], I played for an old tournament. We were winning by 30 points and I wanted to keep playing. Jumped up on a layup and when I landed, pop.”
But this was only the beginning of Camille’s parallels to Bryant. An ACL tear would usually entirely take out the average basketball player for a year, maybe even more, but Camille never wavered, at least mentally – by the end of that same summer, she would play through what remained of the injury with a brace. We gotta remember that at this time, Camille was just 14 years young, but the Mamba Mentality was already deeply embossed in her. Once you’ve bought in, there’s no coming back out to mediocrity. Just ask Kobe when he sank those two free throws on a torn Achilles.
Even in all these parallels, irony never fails to let its presence known. “So I actually tore my ACL wearing his [Bryant] shoe. I had used his shoes for 3-4 years. It was my favorite shoe. So I was like … damn, do I really go back to wearing his shoes?” Camille asked herself. Yet that didn’t stop her from embodying what it really means to have the Mamba Mentality. “You kind of attach certain feelings to certain objects. And I was like, you can’t do that. You’re gonna push yourself back instead of forwards. Like why am I attaching all these negative feelings when I had so many good moments in the shoes? It’s not the shoe. It was something meant to happen. So wearing his shoes again was like another thing for me to reassure myself like you could do it. It’s not something that stopped you. It’s something that gave you the opportunity to take another path.”
“My journey wasn’t that easy but you know, it helped me and was integral to my growth. It’s all about your mentality. How the Mamba Mentality is a mindset. It’s not just something you apply to how you play. It’s something you apply to how you think.”
Clarin brought thatt passion to keep pushing forward in her move to the illustrious National University women’s basketball program last year. However, many who don’t know her story may ask: what’s in it for her joining an NU squad on an 80-game winning streak? How can she showcase her skills in such a stacked team? Will her passion remain the same if she’s not the star?
Camille brushed away those doubts just like Kobe did when he joined the equally illustrious Los Angeles Lakers. Instead of answering to those doubts, Clarin answered this question: how far can passion take you?
“The pressure was tremendous. It was mostly because I was coming from a different country. But then in NU, regardless of how good you are, you’re not gonna dominate the way you think you are,” she explains about confronting her share of uncertainties under the bright lights of the UAAP. Particularly for the NU Lady Bulldogs, who have won a staggering 80 consecutive games at the time. The streak now stands at an unprecedented 96 straight further highlighting the Lady Bulldogs’ sheer dominance, but that didn’t stop Camille from carefully managing expectations and not getting caught up by the pressure. “I was able to kind of get rid of it because we were in it together. My teammates were super supportive because they knew how much people were depending on us to shine during the season.” Being passionate isn’t just simply about talking the talk about loving the game. In the case of Camille, it’s about taking that passion for basketball and using it to hurdle over her fears, no matter the circumstances.
That dream run of a season could not have gone better for any rookie to start their collegiate careers, but for Camille, the improvements never stop. Her fervor to keep improving by the day is what sets her apart, and it’s that same mentality that set Kobe apart. “He [Bryant] spoke about reading the referee handbook. He was referencing how he used to read it and know the dead zones and blind spots on the court. And then he would apply to the game and that’s where he would sneak in fouls,” Camille shares, beaming with a sense of enthusiasm over her idol. “I was like, you don’t hear stories about that. You hear stories about his 81-point game, but those little things set him apart and that’s something I wanna apply to myself.”
Not only is Camille’s passion breaking through felt on the court, but the same can be said off the court, perhaps even more so with her advocacy for advancing women in sports. A patriarchal society, especially in a patriarchal industry in sports, has long left women with an unfair disadvantage due to sexism, and that’s one opponent that Camille would want nothing more to eliminate. “The good thing about women in sports, especially women in basketball, is that when we step on that court, we’re not only fighting to play the game. We’re fighting for a spot in the world of sports.”
Every time that Camille and the Lady Bulldogs step on the court, there are thousands, millions of young women watching their idols, being empowered. “Every time we step on the court, it’s always for a purpose bigger than ourselves. Your journey starts with believing in yourself and kind of establishing that confidence, because, once you’re confident in yourself, you’re more willing to take those risks regardless of the possibility of failure. You just need to remember that the biggest factor stopping you from pursuing your aspirations is yourself, once you’ve tackled that, everything else will follow.”
“What is your deepest fear?”
By the end of the movie Coach Carter, Timo finally had an answer for that question. It took him quite some time, but he finally mustered enough courage to express his thoughts:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were all meant to shine, as children do. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Timo found his direction in Coach Carter’s passion, and in the end, one’s passion will shine a light upon others more so than unto oneself. Ultimately, this is what sets Kobe apart by a mile. His obsession for improvement and winning goes leaps and bounds beyond anything he has done on the court, which is saying a lot. It’s that passion that has sparked a million, and for Camille, it’s hers to pass it down to a million more.