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Friday, June 7, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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NBA

Scott filled role as mentor for Shaq and Kobe

Bloomberg News

LOS ANGELES — New Jersey Nets Coach Byron Scott will have no one to blame except himself if Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal lead the Los Angeles Lakers to their third straight NBA championship.

Scott, whose Nets trail the Lakers 1-0 in the best-of-seven NBA Finals, was instrumental in the development of O'Neal and Bryant, who entered the NBA directly from Lower Merion High School in suburban Philadelphia.

Bryant and O'Neal joined the Lakers for the 1996 season, Scott's final year as a player in Los Angeles.

"Byron was my mentor my first year," said Bryant, who scored 22 points in Game 1. "The advice that he gave me my rookie year I still hold dear today."

The 23-year-old Bryant said he'd always admired Scott, who won three championships with the Magic Johnson-led Lakers of the 1980s. Scott was an integral role player on those teams, which are considered among the best in history.

"He's just been helping me out since day one," Bryant said. "He was always encouraging me, always pushing me to do my best in practice."

Scott emphasized the basics to Bryant. There were lessons on how to play the pick-and-roll as well as the proper way to use screens.

Scott said it was a pleasure to tutor Bryant. "He was a sponge," Scott said. "I really got a chance to talk to him about what it takes to win in this league and what it takes to be successful as a basketball player and as a man." Scott also helped O'Neal, who has become the game's most dominant player. The 7-foot-1, 340-pound center scored 36 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in the series opener Wednesday.

"He stayed on me a lot, told me a lot of war stories and taught me a few moves," O'Neal said. "He's a classy guy."

Scott also told Bryant and O'Neal how to physically survive an 82-game regular season so that they could be at their best in the playoffs.

"How to take care of your body was the most important advice that I received — making sure that you get your proper rest, stretching, things of that nature," Bryant said. "That was really the key."

Ratings down for opener

Ratings for the first game of the NBA Finals dropped 15 percent from last season's opener. Wednesday night's game drew a 10.6 rating with a 20 share. Last year's game between Philadelphia and Los Angeles, drew a 12.4-23.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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