Elder Kornet enjoyed successful All-SEC career for Commodores

Jan. 21, 2015

Commodore History Corner Archive

While attending a Vanderbilt basketball game, chances are after a Commodore basket the PA announcer will roar "Luuuuuuuuke Kornet." 

Sitting in their courtside seats are Luke's thrilled parents. His mother, Tracy, is his biggest cheerleader, always wearing Vanderbilt attire and the first to leap from her seat with a gold shaker at her son's made shot, rebound or shot block. Luke's dad always reveals a grin. The proud poppa is Frank Kornet (1986-89), the former Commodore forward/center and First Team All-SEC selection as a senior.

"I love the way the people at Vanderbilt have accepted and made him feel right at home," Frank Kornet said recently. "I love the way the PA announcer draws out his name. It is a special feeling. As a parent you are just happy for your kid. It is one of those things where the good Lord has blessed us. It seems like yesterday I was running up and down on that floor and now it's my child. I think where has that quarter of a century gone."

Frank Kornet missed most of his freshman and sophomore years at Catholic High School in Lexington, Ky., due to injuries. However he became the team's MVP as a junior and senior and averaged 18.2 points and 10.3 rebounds while shooting 64 percent from the field during his final season. Kornet would have cherished being a Wildcat in his hometown, but that was not a reality for his college basketball future.

"UK came to some of my games and they called me once in awhile, but I knew I was on their back burner," said Kornet. "UK always had All-Americans from coast to coast and were very selective of which scholarships they gave out. If you looked at our (Vanderbilt) basketball teams it seems half of them were from Kentucky. Certain players like Barry Goheen, Scott Draud, Derrick Wilcox and myself were getting away from Kentucky.

"I had narrowed it down to Vanderbilt and Purdue. My dad actually graduated from Purdue so I was a Boilermakers' fan growing up. I would tell everyone to put Vanderbilt and Purdue in a hat and pick either one would have been a great decision. In Vanderbilt, I got to play in the SEC for a legendary coach in C.M. Newton. Purdue at that time was a stronger basketball team.

"The thing that put it over the top for Vanderbilt were the academics and being in the SEC. Purdue had Gene Keady as their head coach. At that time Kevin Stallings was one of his assistant coaches that recruited me. Now he's at Vanderbilt and recruited my son. If you are a kid growing up in Lexington, Ky. and can't play for the Wildcats the next best thing is going back home and trying to beat them. That was a very big game for us at Vanderbilt."

As a Vanderbilt freshman, Kornet started 10 of 26 games and missed several due to injuries. In a few early games he was the top scorer and rebounder. Vanderbilt was rebuilding that season and finished with a 13-15 (7-11 SEC) record. Newton was in his fifth season leading the Commodores.

"All I ever knew was how to work hard," Kornet said. "Everything I did in every drill in practice I wanted to be the best no matter the drill. Some of the older guys knew how to save themselves at different times in practices. At the end of practices I was totally dead. Every time I stepped on the floor I wanted to win. The biggest memory for me from my freshman year was when I became a starter in my third game. That was against the Duke Blue Devils -- a very memorable team with Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie and Jay Bilas. Danny Ferry was a freshman. For that to be my first game and start was a very special moment. 

"We played very well, but lost by 10 points (84-74 in Memorial Gym). Back then they were a very dominant team. We lost two players in that game. I believe it was Bilas that broke Brett Burrow's nose. He just turned and hit him in the face. His nose just exploded. Jeff Gary was coming off a redshirt season and got hit in the face and shattered his cheekbone. We played them very well for losing two players. We gave them a good battle."

Kornet averaged 4.8 points and shot 50 percent from the field that season with 3.7 boards per game. In his sophomore season, Vanderbilt gained national attention with its upset win (79-75) over No. 2 Indiana coached by Bobby Knight in Memorial Gym. The Hoosiers would conclude the season by winning the national championship. Vanderbilt was 18-16 (7-11 SEC).

"It was a game where everything was clicking," Kornet said. "We had some younger guys that played very well for us. Barry Goheen and Will (Perdue) were very good in the game. We were huge underdogs, but you could see that the future of the team was coming together in that game. The inception of the 3-point line helped our team tremendously with the likes of Goheen, Barry Booker, Scott Draud, and Derrick Wilcox. All of these players could shoot the ball lights out. 

"That was the first year of the 3-point shot. Coach Newton took great advantage of it. A lot of people did not know how to use it effectively at that time. We would shoot the ball every day in practice and Coach Newton would say, `if you can shoot 50 percent from the 3-point line you have the green light in a game. I actually had the green light to shoot it, but we had so many guards that could shoot it they didn't need me out there. I was needed in other areas."

Kornet netted five points with a pair of rebounds against the Hoosiers. He was still struggling with injuries that developed after he entered college. The 6-foot-9, 225-pounder was a power forward, but looking to establish a role on the team.

"The Indiana game was the last time that I really played that year," said Kornet. "My freshman and sophomore years were hampered by injuries. I feel like I played only a year and a half at Vanderbilt. My first year I went down with an ankle injury and it was difficult to come back. When you got hurt there was always someone waiting to take your place. I was pushed to the back burner. 

"During my sophomore year I had a major injury. Actually the day after the Indiana game in practice I was guarding somebody on the wing and closed in on him, changed directions and my knee went. I went off the court and into the locker room. They asked me to straighten my leg while I was on the table and it was shaking violently. I had an X-ray that showed nothing. 

"I didn't get an MRI. I knew I was hurt and wanted to redshirt, but Coach Newton said he really needed me that year. I was a 19-year old kid and wanted to do everything I could for my coach and team. I told him I was there for him. If you were hurt you really weren't going to play as much. I practiced hard every day. I played the remainder of the year hurt and I was used sparingly coming off the bench. I was running around on one leg for the most part. At the end of the year I had an MRI that showed I had a hole in my patella tendon. So after the season I had knee surgery."

Kornet played in 27 games as a sophomore with no starts, averaging 2.2 points per game and 2.3 rebounds. He came back strong for his junior season in 1987-88, which would be exciting and historic for the Commodores. Vanderbilt was 20-11 (10-8 SEC) in a season Kornet was the starting power forward and backing up senior center Perdue.

Kornet started 29 games and averaged 6.4 points (157-of-318) and 4.3 rebounds. The Commodores first gained national attention that season with its Memorial Gym victory over No. 1 North Carolina and coach Dean Smith.

"When I came in as a freshman with Barry Booker, Barry Goheen, Chip Rupp and Sydney Grider there were five of us," Kornet said. "You could see we had the makings of a good team. Will was coming off a redshirt year. We saw what we could do and kept working to get better to turn this thing around.

"The Indiana game, the previous year, showed us what we were capable of. Back then the Kentuckys, Indianas and North Carolinas of the world was almost like playing semi-pro teams. Look at Kentucky today; all those players are one and done. Back then those were the type of players staying four years. That's what made those teams dynasties. I got the first rebound of that game (North Carolina) and J.R. Reid was right there.

"I was shocked at how big and strong these guys were and I knew it was going to be a battle to the end. It was one of those games where it was back and forth the entire game. Our guards stepped up and shot the ball really well. Will was really coming into his own. That game put Vanderbilt and Will Perdue on the map. He was our leader that year. We felt after that night there was not a team in the country that could beat us."

Vanderbilt began the season 7-4 when they began a stretch winning 11 of 13 games blowing out teams in Memorial Gym. Dominating wins came over Alabama (76-60), Georgia (92-77), Kentucky (83-66), Florida (92-65), Mississippi State (82-66), Tennessee (90-62) and Mississippi (93-68).

"That's one of those things I try to teach kids today," Kornet said. "Coach Newton would always say to us before we left the locker room, `play hard, play smart and play together.' If you can do those three things you will never step off the basketball court and say, `what if.' You know you gave your best effort. You will be able to live with the results. It was one of those times in basketball where honestly all five of us were playing as one.

"We were a well-oiled machine. It didn't matter who was walking into Memorial Gym. If we continued to play like this, there isn't a team in the country that will beat us. That's how I felt. That is what every team strides for everyday. That is why you come out everyday at practice to work hard. Coach Newton had us all on the same page. We didn't care who scored as long as we scored."

In the four years Kornet played at Vanderbilt he faced the Kentucky Wildcats nine times and winning three. All three victories were in Nashville. Said Kornet, "Like I said before if I can't play for Kentucky I wanted to play against and beat them. When I went into Rupp Arena there were now 24,000 people that hated me. `Why do you hate me (Kornet laughing)? I am a hometown product.'" 

Vanderbilt made the NCAA Tournament later that season playing against Utah State (80-77) in Lincoln, Neb. Kornet had a game-high 20 points and 10 rebounds in that first round. The Commodores advanced to play No. 8 ranked Pittsburgh that would be one of the most dramatic endings in Vanderbilt basketball history.

"There were about 12 seconds in the game and we are down by four points," said Kornet. "We came down the court and Barry (Goheen) hit a three to put us down by one. They threw the ball in bounds, and Will fouls out of the game. We had to foul immediately with five seconds to go. They made both free throws and we are down by three points. 

"We knew at that time the game should be over. Back then if you got fouled shooting a 3-point shot you only got two free throws. We knew whoever got the ball was going to get mugged. We threw the ball to Barry (Goheen). I was circling down the right side of the floor. There were actually two guys on him backing away. 

"Barry crossed half court and they were not going after him. He lets the ball go. I was standing underneath the basket. When that ball was half way to the goal I knew it was in. He nailed it and sent the game into overtime. I'm sure Pittsburgh was shocked. We ended up beating them in overtime (80-74)."

The win over Pittsburgh propelled Vanderbilt into the Sweet Sixteen against Kansas and their All-American Danny Manning. The game was played in Pontiac, Mich., but the Commodores fell to the Jayhawks, 77-64 ending a memorable season. Kansas went onto win the national championship.

"Danny had a remarkable game," said Kornet. "I remember the first possession Barry Booker pulled up for a 3-point shot. It was 75 percent down the rim, rattled around and popped out. They came down and Manning hit a sailing three. I have always thought if Barry's shot had gone down it would have been a totally different game.

"Manning was projected as an All-American. It seemed like anytime we got near him the officials called a foul. Not to take anything away from him; he had a remarkable game. He was a big guy that could play the perimeter. You would think in a game that is played to get into the Elite Eight it wouldn't be called so touchy.

"It was one of those things where they adjusted to it and we did not. They took advantage of it. Booker played very well. But, I believe a lot of that had to do with officiating. We never got settled. It was one of the few times that I can look back and say the officiating got the best of us."

1988-89 Media Guide Cover Perdue would graduate and leave an opening at the center position for Kornet's promising senior year. The season opened in Hawaii in the Maui Classic. The Commodores lost to Michigan, beat Chaminade and were defeated by Ohio State. Kornet began the season at his usual power forward position, but his role would change.

"Coach Newton was experimenting with different centers--Fred Benjamin and Alberto Ballestra were struggling," said Kornet. "I don't know if they were ready to play that position. After playing about eight games, Coach Newton came to the realization that he was going to put the best five players on the floor.

"We started three guards and two forwards and I had to play center. It's not something that really bothered me. I didn't care what position I was playing. If I'm on the floor, I'm on the floor. I knew I was going to guard some very talented centers. I knew I had to twist them out with my quickness and try to get some steals. I was playing in their strengths. As a power forward I was used to guarding big strong players down low. It's just now they are a little bit taller. The way I would look at it I had to guard them where their strength was and they had to come out 15 feet away from the basket to guard me at times.

"I knew how to play in the post position. I played against Will everyday in practice. I was going to try and push them off their spot and contest every shot. If I could constantly change my looks in the post on the defensive end, most swing players are going to look in there for second. If I could keep the ball off them that second then I've done my job. I was taught that by Coach Newton, Coach (John) Bostick and Coach (Ed) Martin."

Barry Goheen is remembered in Vanderbilt basketball history as a clutch player that could change a close game with a miracle buzzer-beater or a halfcourt shot to win a game. Kornet said Goheen would also make such shots in practice. He had a great view from the court witnessing Goheen's heroics.

"It was fun to be on the floor to watch him," said Kornet. "There were certainly ones that stick out, but there was nothing better than that Georgia game. There were so many things that happened in that Georgia game. They had a breakaway dunk that they missed and we rebounded. We were down by two points. 

"Barry Booker pushed the ball down the middle of the floor and he jumped into the air and mowed down the man on him. They did not call that. He kicked it out to Barry (Goheen). Barry looks up at the clock, stepped back behind the three-point line and nailed the three-pointer at the buzzer. We only needed two points to send the game into overtime. After the game, in the lockerroom, he told Coach Newton he didn't think he (Coach Newton) could handle the overtime."

Vanderbilt entered the first Florida game in Memorial Gym with a 4-2 SEC record and both were considered tops in the conference. In the previous summer, Gator center Dwayne Schintzius was involved in an incident where he allegedly hit a student with a tennis racket.

On Gator road games, fans would toss tennis balls at the 7-foot-2 player. The league sent out a correspondence to SEC members stating that in the future technical fouls would be called against the home team for such behavior.

During the game in Memorial Gym, Vanderbilt had the game won in regulation by two points. As the clock ticked down to one second, tennis balls came flying out of the stands. Official John Clougherty called the technical against the Commodores. Schintzius connected on two free throws to send the game into overtime, where the Gators eventually won 81-78.

"What I enjoyed the most about that game, Florida and ourselves were the best two teams in the conference that year," said Kornet. "Both times we played them we went into overtime. They were both hard-fought back and forth games. Dwayne Schintzius was a heck of a player. With the game at home I was at the foul line. I hit the first free throw that put us up by two and I missed the second one.

"There was a mad dash for the basketball in the corner. They actually ran somebody out for a full court pass that went out of bounds. The clock stopped with one second to go. It's our ball and we are up by two. There is no possible way we can lose that game. They played well, we played well. It was a great game to be a part of. But, for the way it ended I can tell you that we did not lose that game. For John Clougherty to call a technical at that time on our fans was remarkable to me.

"We did not win the SEC title because of that call. That had nothing to do with basketball. It had nothing to do with the 10 players on the floor. It was because of some incident with Schintzius on the Florida campus. The previous game they were bombarded by tennis balls on the court. I don't know how many tennis balls were thrown maybe five or seven. Some have said it was a Florida fan that threw the tennis balls, but I believe it was our fans."

Kornet poured in 14 points with 11 rebounds against the Gators. So is Schintzius the bully that all Vandy fans loved to hate?

"He was one of the nicest guys I played against," Kornet said. "He played hard and always gave you a battle. I always fought him back. I never had a problem playing against him. I was a 6-foot-9 guy going up against a guy 7-foot-2. When he turned with the ball high, his elbows are right at my head. There were times he absolutely clocked me.

"But, as a player you know when somebody is trying to cheap shot you or you accidentally get hit. When he would hit me, he'd turn around and say, `Frank, are you OK?' I know a lot of fans did not like him. I think he enjoyed playing that villain role. I always enjoyed playing against him He was not a trash talker to me or a cheap shot artist. He was a very good basketball player and it was a privilege to play against him."

During the season Coach Newton announced that he would resign at the end of the year to take over the athletic director's duties at Kentucky where he was a player. Kentucky basketball had lost its prominence. The Vanderbilt community was stunned and disappointed with the announcement.

"I know he announced it sometime before the Kentucky game that we won 81-51," Kornet said. "We had a meeting in the locker room. When I saw the look on his face I looked at Booker and said, `He's gone.' It was a good opportunity for him. He played at Kentucky for Coach (Adolph) Rupp and was asked to turn around Kentucky basketball. His announcement of going to Kentucky did not take anything out of us. 

"We had a chance to win the SEC championship and that was always our goal. Sometimes you wonder in that situation where a coach's allegiance is going to be when you take a job like that. He was Vanderbilt through and through.

"Coach Newton wanted to beat Kentucky just as bad as every kid on our team did. Against Kentucky we were beating them by 20 and Coach Newton said, `Let's beat them by 30.' When we got a lead of 30 points he said, `Let's beat them by 40.'

"We wanted to give Kentucky one of their worst losses ever. When we were up by 30 points I was wondering when was he going to take us out. That was one game he was thinking, `Let 'em go.' We knew that Coach Newton loved us and his time at Vanderbilt."

Vanderbilt ended the season 19-14 (12-6 SEC) with a second-place finish in the conference -- one game behind Florida. A first-round loss to Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament ended the season. Kornet's average increased to 16.8 points per game, which led the team. His 7.1 rebounding average was also tops for the season. 

Kornet was named First Team All-SEC and selected by Milwaukee in the second round (30th overall) of the 1989 NBA draft. He said that he benefited in playing with two great point guards at Vanderbilt in Darrell Dulaney and Derrick Wilcox. They helped him become the player he was and made basketball easy for him.

"What people and my agent were telling me, I would be a late first round or early second round selection," said Kornet. "I had worked out for certain teams, but on draft day I didn't know where I was going. It was a perfect situation for me at that time. I was Milwaukee's only draft pick that year. I went to a very veteran team with some great players--Ricky Pierce, Paul Pressey, Jack Sikma, and Alvin Robinson. 

"We were a very solid team. We were always on the heels of Detroit--the bad boys and Chicago. It was tough as a rookie and it was an expansion year. I was hoping to be picked up by an expansion team. If you go to an expansion team you have an opportunity to play. In Milwaukee all the positions were solidified. I was biding my time. I hoped to have an opportunity down the road. I did have an opportunity here and there. I was very happy to be chosen by the Bucks. It was a great era and town to play in the NBA. I was glad to be a part of it the two years I was there."

Frank KornetKornet played two seasons for the Bucks, playing in 89 games. His career totals include a 1.9 points per game average (65-of-176), with 95 rebounds and 10-for-38 from the 3-point line. Kornet is proud of his memories being on the floor with such greats as Larry Bird, Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan.

"Charles Barkley was one of my idols when I came to Vanderbilt," Kornet said. "He left Auburn after his sophomore year so I never got to play against him in the SEC. One of my favorite stories is from my rookie year. Our first game was in Boston and I thought what a cool place to play your first game in the Boston Garden. The week before that game I hurt my ankle really bad. I did not play at the Boston Garden. 

"The next night we played at Philadelphia so I didn't make that road trip. Philadelphia followed us back home where we played the 76ers again as our opening game in Milwaukee. I was sitting on the bench in dress clothes and Charles came out about one and a half hours before the game to shoot. I was sitting on the bench with a boot on my foot. I had never met the man in my life. 

"He walked directly up to me and said, `Hi Frank, how are you doing?' Then he sat down and we talked for an hour. I was thinking, `This is an NBA all-star, how does he know who I am?' He knew because I was in the SEC and from Vanderbilt. Barkley was razzing me about Auburn playing Vanderbilt. He was always a fun guy to watch. That is why I wore the number that I did at Vanderbilt."

Kornet opted out of a guaranteed third year on his Milwaukee contract. Instead he played professionally in Italy (1991-92) for Ticino Assicurazioni Siena. The following seasons he was in Fort Wayne, Ind., in the minor league CBA (1992-93), Panasonic Reggio Calbria (Italy-1993) and the Rochester Renegade (1993-94) of the CBA.

"If I did have a regret in my life that would probably be leaving the NBA with another year on my contract," said Kornet. "All players want to play no matter where it is. I could see it would be a while to have more playing time in Milwaukee. There was always some team in Europe that wanted me to play. My agent told me that a team in Italy wanted me. It would be more playing time and I would be the best player on the team (only two Americans allowed on an Italian team). 

"It was an opportunity to play and make more money so I left Milwaukee. Knowing now how it was I probably wouldn't have gone. Back then in the NBA the longer you stayed the longer they would find a spot for you if you were a decent player. If you were a big name player, and I was not a big name player, it is tough to get back in. I didn't realize that until later. 

"My agent guided me that way. At that time agents made 10 percent over there and four percent in the NBA. I was 23-24 years old at the time and sometimes you get the wrong advice. It is what it was and I thank the good Lord for the opportunity was be part of it."

Kornet met his wife Tracy while at Vanderbilt. She transferred to the University of Kentucky to earn a communications degree in pursuing a broadcasting career. While at Vanderbilt, she danced on the Vandy Pom squad and majored in French and International Relations. Tracy is a five-time Emmy Award winning news anchor, host and writer. She began working in Nashville this past summer as an afternoon anchor/reporter for WSMV-TV. She is also an accomplished singer and considers herself a "Vandy Girl."

"One summer when I came home from Italy, Tracy was shooting a commercial at a television station in Lexington," said Kornet. "The general manager asked her to try out on a set and that's how her career began. As her career began mine was coming to an end. I definitely wanted to play in the NBA. I knew I didn't want to hang around the CBA. Once her career got started I became Mr. Mom for a while."

Kornet has supported his wife's career from Lexington to Phoenix and Dallas. The Kornets moved to Nashville this past August and Frank is an assistant basketball coach at Harpeth Hall. 

"I got started in coaching at a small Catholic school Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Tempe, Ariz.," said Kornet. "I talked to the principal there to see if I could be a teacher. I started out as a teacher's aide. I figured out quickly I did not want to be a classroom teacher because it seemed like a paper nightmare to me. At that time the physical education (P.E.) teacher went on maternity leave. The principal knew my background and asked if I'd like to be her replacement for the rest of the year. I told him I would. 

"So the next year the P.E teacher did not return to school. I was there for about seven years and coached the boys and girls basketball teams at Mount Carmel. Of course my kids were part of it at that time. Then we moved to Dallas where I was an assistant coach at Liberty Christian School (Luke's high school) and eventually the head coach. By the time we moved to Nashville I was trying to move in. They had already started school here so I wasn't sure if I could find a spot. Harpeth Hall is an all girls school and I hadn't coached girls since my daughter in grade school."

Kornet has three college basketball players in the family. The oldest son 6-foot-9 John played for Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas and works in Little Rock. His daughter, Nicole, is a 6-foot junior guard who currently plays for the University of Oklahoma. She made an unofficial recruiting trip to Vanderbilt. And the youngest is 7-foot sophomore Luke that has become a key player for the Commodores this season.

Obviously, Kornet had a basketball influence on his children.

"Basketball is a part of me; that is why I'm still coaching," said Kornet. "I started my kids with baseball as I did as their first sport. That's a great sport to help with hand-eye coordination. The next thing is to pick up a basketball, as you get a little older. I don't know if it's because my love for the game rubbed off on my kids or they wanted to try and enjoy that experience.

"If they are good enough to play in high school that takes care of itself. You need certain abilities to move on past high school. Any time they wanted my help I was always there for them. I ended up coaching them all at some point either in grade or high school. I enjoy watching Nicole and Luke play. I watched John play at Ouachita and I really enjoy being a parent.

"Some parents put blinders on and just watch their kids. I enjoy watching the game and rooting for them and their teammates. I never forced it upon any of them. If they wanted to play and had questions I do the best I can to help them be the best they can. It's just that they ended up with a basketball in their hands. They are all good athletes and exceptional students."

Traughber's Tidbit: Luke Kornet vs. Nicole Kornet's season stats through Jan. 17. Luke has appeared in 17 games (11 starts); 53-of-100 field goals (53.0 percent); 23-of-56 3-pointers (41.1 percent); 17-of-25 free throws (68.0 percent); 72 rebounds (4.2 per game); 13 assists; 146 total points (8.6 average per game).

Nicole has appeared in 16 games (2 starts); 38-of-91 field goals (41.8 percent); 21-of-57 3-pointers (36.8 percent); 18-of-24 free throws (75.0 percent); 44 rebounds (2.8 per game); 8 assists; 114 total points (7.2 average per game).

If you have any comments or suggestions contact Bill Traughber via email WLTraughber@aol.com.



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