Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Real World

I still work at the Marriott.


I might give off the vibe that I'm busting my tail and moving up the ranks in my new UCLA gig, but I spend most of my hours busing tables, tending to the drunk, and falling on my face.

At 11pm the kitchen closes. In typical Kornet fashion, a table for two walked in right at 10:55pm.

I quickly placed their order for 3 plates of fish tacos and 3 plates of shishito peppers. They were hungry.

Our food runner takes off at 11pm too, so it was my job to run down to the kitchen and bring the food up.

I totally forgot.

30 minutes had passed, and I started questioning whether or not the chefs were out on the pier catching the fish themselves.

Trying my best to curb the appetites of two hangry men, I never let their gin & tonics go dropless.

Saved by the bell, the phone rang.

It was Chef.

He was not a happy camper. The tacos had been under the warmer for some time.

And Nicole, the food runner, was nowhere to be found.

I sprinted down the stairs and saw the food sitting there. After a few exchanges of unfriendly glares from Chef 1 and Chef 2, I apologized and grabbed the piping hot plates. I could feel the third degree burns bubbling my skin. Chef 1 and Chef 2 weren't about to help me find a tray either. By the time I turned around to ask for one, they were already out the door.

Time was of the essence. Two men full of testosterone were upstairs waiting on me.

I clinched the plates, peeled the corner, then bit it.

The floors were wet and my rubbery-soled Vans weren't up for the challenge. The chefs had just mopped and the lights were dim. It was 11pm and everyone was gone.

I landed straight on my elbow. I thought I shattered it. I pride myself on never breaking a bone, and there I was, laying on a wet, kitchen floor with a plate full of piping hot fish tacos, broken glass, and newfound sprinkles of fresh blood staining what had been my 23-year break-free bone streak.

(I didn't shatter it. Boo-yah.)

I somehow managed to salvage 2 out of 3 fish taco plates mid-fall. I dusted off the slaw, wiped my tears, and brought the remains to the table of two on the patio.

Now I know what you're thinking...

"Why are you sitting here wasting your time writing this blog when you can be in court filing a lawsuit worth millions???"

There was a wet floor sign.

I was just too concentrated on my boiling flesh that was frying from fish at the time to see it.

There was a "caution hot plate" sign for that too.

I don't say all of this for your pity, because if I were to do that I would have mentioned the fact that I got pulled over on my way to pick up a paycheck from UCLA earlier that morning.

Apparently I crossed a double yellow line while turning left and the cop decided to dish out a $400 ticket for "driving on the wrong side of the road."

When it rains, it pours.

Daniel Powder put it best, I had a bad day.

Being an ex-student-athlete, at that moment, as I laid there on the cold, dark, dank Marriott kitchen floor, it hit me.

Real-life is hard.

__________________

I don't want to be a waitress forever. In fact, I never wanted to be one to begin with.

But it's through this job that I've seemed to learn the most.

One of my coworkers was recently fired. He is a father, a husband, and the sole provider for his family.

Another one of my coworkers was carrying a glass water jug to refill for the guests. As he was carrying it over to the sink it slipped and sliced his hand open. He can't feel several of his fingers now because he didn't get to the ER on time. The ER, where he had to pay out of pocket, because he doesn't have insurance.

I've learned so much amongst my peers here in Southern California. I love these guys. I've never seen a group of such diligent, hard workers, and I had been a student-athlete at one of the most prestigious schools in the world.

I don't plan on staying long at the Marriott. In fact, with season starting up, my hours will now be going the other way, and UCLA is where most of my time will reside.

But I won't ever forget what I learned being at Le Merigot on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, California.


Be proud of where you came from. Be proud of who you are. Who cares if you're a waitress? Who cares if you're still trying to figure it all out?

If you're 43, or 23.

As long as you have health insurance........

The real-world is hard. I get it now. I no longer get the perks of being a student-athlete, but despite the world being hard, it doesn't mean I should be ashamed.

Not everything is as it seems.

People struggle. And as cliché as it sounds, there is so much beauty in the struggle. So much growth in the struggle.

People relate to struggle. We all do.

Real-life and real people resonate.

Even your favorite, superhuman NBA idols struggle. Once you truly get to know a person, a group, a team, or an organization everything becomes much more relatable.

__________________

I remember seventh grade.

I had the biggest crush in the world on John-Paul Malham.

But John-Paul Malham had the biggest crush in the world on Madison Austin.

In seventh grade he kissed her after school. I was crushed. Devastated. Destroyed.

I looked like this in seventh grade.


Madison Austin looked like this.


Fifteen years later, and that little Coley hasn't changed a bit. I've always been such a tomboy. Always have and always will be. I prefer throwing bombs to the boys at recess instead of ooo'ing and ahh'ing at those who do.

My mom deserves so much of the credit.

Not for the athletic ability per se, but for the confidence she instilled in me.

Don't get me wrong, my father taught me the hog-nasty basketball confidence, but my mom taught me how to be confident in who I am as a person.

She told me it was okay to wear the boy's t-shirt from Old Navy with the dogs on the front.

She told me it was okay to want do-rags for Christmas so I can look like Allen Iverson.

She told me it was okay to be who I am.

I have permission to be imperfect.

__________________

I'm a fairly shallow person. Well, here's the thing-- I'm obsessed with pretty people. I stumble into these beautiful LA mothers and their just as naturally beautiful children and I crave the same for myself one day.

But my mom didn't care. She never let me feel like I wasn't pretty enough. She loved me for who I was. And she told me I was beautiful the way I was every single day.

Kids go in and out of phases, and my mom knew that. She knew that one day I'd want to go to homecoming and pick out a dress. She knew that one day I'd want to take a shower. She knew that one day I'd grow up.

Yeah, I did want to look like Madison Austin. I did want to be the one that everyone fawned over, but there's nothing more satisfying than being who you are, owning it, living it, accepting it, and being proud of it.


I work at the Marriott. I have pimples. And I love who I am.


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Take Your Sister To Work Day

I haven’t been back since I left.

And there I was, face-deep in a Turkey Bacon Pickleman’s sandwich in Norman, Oklahoma. I was with two of Luke’s best friends from high school and we were making the drive up from Dallas.

The New York Knicks vs. The Oklahoma City Thunder


I had to go.

I had to go so badly that I initially got to the airport on the wrong day, missed my original flight, and ended up in Dallas with a $150 change fee!

Thank you, Frontier Airlines!

My new job at UCLA consists of, you guessed it, blogging. So I figured what better way to start the new gig than to accompany my brother on his first day??

In Oklahoma City.

Luke’s friends wanted to get to the game an hour early to watch warm-ups. I never get anywhere early, so this was a tall task. With hours to spare, we made it to will-call.

“Kornet, please.”

The lady handed me an envelope with Luke’s chicken-scratch handwriting scribbled on the front.

And just like that – it hit me.


My little brother is in the NBA.

I walked into Chesapeake Energy Arena for what had been the dozenth time. From watching KD, Russ and Harden battle together as teammates, to fighting for our lives in the Big XII Tournament, to playing in my first Sweet Sixteen back on our home turf.

I walked through the double doors amongst the sea of OKC fans, and I couldn’t stop thinking—

I have to go to the bathroom.

And,

All of these people are coming to watch this basketball game. 

The basketball game with a certain basketball player that sticks out from the rest.

(I'm talking about Luke).

I was smiling so big I looked like my mother.

As we found our seats as the warm-up clock dwindled down, I texted Luke where we were sitting. I stood up for the National Anthem and tears started falling down my face. There he stood, linked arms with Doug McDermott and Coach Hornacek.


After introductions, he looked up at section 111, Row M, seat 9 and smiled back.

More tears.

Happy tears.

After the game Luke came out and chatted it up with the guys. It felt like we were back in high school at Liberty Christian. After about 15 minutes or so, we had to let him get back to the locker room. We said our goodbyes, but I wasn’t done yet.

We were in Oklahoma City.

I had to say hi to my boy.

The security guards were on to us, but security guards can’t stop a girl in love.

“Russ! It’s your girl!”

He looked over, smiled, and asked how Luke & I were. Mission accomplished.

As we piled back into the car, I set the navigation back home. And by home I mean Pickleman’s. Pickleman’s for lunch. And Pickleman’s for dinner. Just like I never left.

Oklahoma’s campus had a ton of new, beautiful buildings. Owen Field’s renovations looked spectacular and the new Dairy Queen was a wonderful addition. An addition that would have saved me many tanks of gas, because the previous location I used to frequent was a good 30 miles away in Moore.

So much change.

But with all the change, the feeling felt the same.

I couldn’t help but get a quick word in with God.

“Lord, thank you for unanswered prayers.”

I know that sounds silly, but that was the theme of the day. I used go to bed each night praying to God that Oklahoma would get better for me. That the heartache and longing to be somewhere else would go away.

God didn’t answer that prayer.

It never got better for me.

I remember praying that Luke would get drafted. That it would be an easy road ahead for him.

God didn’t answer that prayer.

It’s not going to be easy for him.

But because He didn’t answer those prayers, He was able to show us His own.

Instead, God led me to UCLA.


Instead, God led Luke to the New York Knicks.


Instead, I got to bite deep down into a warm, toasted turkey sandwich that was 3 years overdue.

Instead, Luke gets to blaze a trail, affect millions more, and appreciate each and every opportunity that comes his way.


So much had changed. So many prayers gone “unanswered.”

And I couldn’t stop smiling.

After Pickleman’s round 2, we finally hit the road. I-35 South.

I could make this drive with my eyes closed. When I was at Oklahoma my parents still lived in Dallas. Pop a few CDs in and the 3hr drive whizzes by. Although my parents no longer live in Dallas, several other wonderful parents do. I texted one of the Liberty Christian moms at midnight and crashed in their guest room just after 3am.

After I transferred from Oklahoma, the 3hr drive to Dallas no longer existed, which meant for the time being, Liberty Christian didn't either.

My parents moved. My dad was no longer the Varsity Boys Head Coach, and I no longer had that Texas connection.

Or so I thought.

My mom bought the whole family flights for Luke’s home opener in Madison Square Garden the following day, so I had another game to catch. I was flying out of Dallas, but before it was time to go to the airport, I had to make a pit stop.

Where to?

Liberty Christian School.


I hadn’t been back since I transferred.

So much change.

So much change, but the feeling felt the same.

I was home.

The mom smile was back.


After an hour of catching up with the best teachers, coaches, and legendary Big Mike the security guard, who would have to unarm the school alarm after the Kornet family constantly broke into the gym for late night shooting sprees, my mind came alive with more flashes of unanswered prayer.

My senior year I was in all AP classes and had SAT tutoring every other night, while my best friends did as seniors do—nothing.

I wanted to go to Stanford.

But God didn’t answer that prayer.

____________________

You might feel stuck right now. Like how I felt at Oklahoma.

You might feel hurt for someone. Like how I felt for Luke after the draft.

You might feel utter rejection. Like how I felt after Coach Tara Vanderveer told me I didn’t get in to Stanford.

But I promise you that your unanswered prayers will turn into answered ones. Answered ones that you never even thought were possible.

Lord, thank you for unanswered prayers. Your way is perfect; my way is flawed. What I asked for was temporary happiness, but instead, you gave me a lifetime of happiness.

A lifetime of change.

That changed my life.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Circle Makers

I've been home for the past two weeks. Sitting on the couch.

I got really sick. So my mom's been doing what she does best: being a mom. From vaccines and flu shots to acne appointments and chest x-rays, I feel like I'm 12 again.

Especially when dad says I must walk the dog before I can eat my late night Nutter Butters.

I've had a lot of time reflecting on who I am and who got me here.


My mom’s a big reader and Bible study fan. In every state we’ve ever lived, she’s always made it a priority to sink her claws into a group of women and bring them on the bandwagon too.

Yesterday, on one of my long couch-sitting sessions, I stumbled upon her stack of journals, workbooks, and Bibles.

On the top of the pile was Draw the Circle by Mark Batterson.

My mom gave me this book right after I transferred from Oklahoma.

She gave me the book and a journal, and encouraged me to write.

I wrote every night in that journal, until I left it in the seat-back of a Southwest Airlines airplane on my way to Los Angeles, California.

That's when I started blogging.

After skimming through the first few pages of Draw the Circle, memories came flooding back.

Memories I vividly recall scribbling down about particular people, the places I'd been, and the feelings I felt.

Memories like these.




As many of you know, I had the best time of my life at UCLA. But what many of you don’t know, is that I owe much of why to these five Sooners:

1. Trevor Knight

Trevor is not only one of the most beautiful men you’ve ever laid your eyes on, but he’s also one of the most kind-hearted.


Trevor is the complete package. He’s a devoted man of God who has worked tirelessly for everything he’s ever accomplished.

If he wants something bad enough, he’ll get it.

If his dream is to start for the Oklahoma Sooners, he will.

If his dream is to blossom as a quarterback at Texas A&M, he will.

If his dream is to play in the NFL, he will.

Whatever Trevor touches seems to turn to gold. Not because he’s some fairy godfather, but because he knows what kind of diligence it takes.


He’s a doer.

He loved Oklahoma with all of his heart but knew it was in his best interest to leave.

I’ve always related to Trevor in this way.

Watching Trevor come into his own at A&M made me realize that it’s possible for me to do just that at UCLA.


Trevor left Oklahoma, but not a soul resented him for it. Because he did everything the right way.

I wish I could say the same.

What I learned from Trevor is resiliency.


2. Connor Knight

Connor is Trevor’s twin brother.


This guy taught me a lot. But out of the five, I probably know him the least.

Connor started as a walk-on at OU, while Trevor started as QB1.

But Connor’s not the type of guy who will sit back and ride the coattails of his brother.

Connor’s one of the most modest guys I know. He's never been one to try and one-up his brother. He loves Trevor with all of his heart. He’s his biggest cheerleader, and his biggest critic.

They remind me so much of Luke and me.

I used to really relate to Trevor, but lately I couldn’t feel any closer to Connor.

Connor never let jealously swallow him whole. Instead, he made a name for himself too, and scored a touchdown to prove it.


As I hang up the shoes and Luke polishes his, it’s important for me to remember what Connor taught me.

What I learned from Connor is how to give. Totally and completely of yourself.


3. Maddie Manning

Madeline Janet Manning is now entering her sixth year at Oklahoma. We came in together as freshmen. By the time she played in her first game as a Sooner, I was entering my junior year.


Two fresh ACLs later, she’s finally about to begin her senior year.

We were babies back then, but even then she knew she was going to be somebody some day.

Let me tell you though, it didn’t look like it was going to pan out that way at first.

That girl was and probably still is the most stubborn person I have ever met. But as I see her enter her senior year, I see how much she’s changed.

She’s seasoned. She’s focused. She’s the face of Oklahoma Women’s Basketball.

I hope she has the best year of her career. I hope she’s an All-American. I hope she does what Stacey Dales did and makes it to the national championship game. Against UCLA, of course.

Being teammates teaches you a lot about a person. Flipping through pictures I can’t help but smile at the moments we shared together.

 Ft.ing Grandma Whit

Three years have passed and I’ve only had a conversation or two with Maddie since I've left. But what she has taught me is immeasurable.

Maddie taught me how to believe.

How to believe in yourself, and in a cause that’s much bigger than yourself.


4. Peyton Little

I’ve known Peyton since I was 16.


We played on the same AAU team.

After her first semester at Texas A&M, she sent me a text.

“Nicole, I’m not happy here.”

Peyton came to Oklahoma my sophomore year. We had our own two-bedroom at the world-renowned Crimson Park Apartments in Norman.

Peyt & I tandem biking. On a Tandem bike we bought from Craigslist. 

She came right when I needed her.

Her uncle played at Oklahoma back in the 80’s. They lived a mile from campus at the time and became like a second family to me. We practically lived at their house in the summers and several times a week too (when Uncle David was cooking, and Aunt Amy was baking).

Peyton was a lifesaver for me. She couldn’t play due to the transfer rule, so she served as my counselor.


I was having a hard time on the basketball court that year.

I remember coming home from games, plopping face-down on my bed, and shutting the door behind me.

Minutes later, she’d come creeping in.

“Coley?” The sound of her voice still resonates in my head to this day.

She'd turn on my Backstreet Boys CD, and together we’d dance the pain away.

Only to be reprimanded by our coaches the next day due to a video that had surfaced on Twitter of a post-game dance party after what had been a 20-point throttling by Duke earlier that evening.

Sorry, coach.

Peyton taught me how to have fun again.


She brought the joy back.

5. Ty Darlington

I’ve never met anyone like Ty Darlington.


Like myself, he was between Stanford and Oklahoma when deciding on a college back in high school.

Unlike me, he got in. He chose to attend Oklahoma because Sooner pride ran deep in his bloodline, and he felt a connection that he couldn't resist.

Ty is a natural-born leader.

Coach Coale always told us to “leave your story better than you found it.”

Ty Darlington left his story better than he found it.


Lucky for Sooner nation, he’s still sowing the seeds of success within the football program in order for us fans to someday (January 8, 2018) reap the benefits. 

Ty isn't afraid to be who he is. He isn't afraid to hold someone accountable, push someone past their comfort zone, or simply be a shoulder to cry on when someone is hurting. 

What I learned from Ty is how to grow. How to grow deeper in friendships, amongst family, and most importantly, in faith.


Trevor taught me resilience.

Connor taught me how to give.

Maddie taught me how to believe.

Peyton taught me how to spread joy.

Ty taught me how to grow.


Three years later, as I finish up my time as a student-athlete and begin the next chapter of my life as a working woman, I reflect on the time I had with these five.

They each played a pivotal role in my evolution as a person.

Because of them I was able to learn from my mistakes. I took a long look in the mirror and fixed what was broken.


I was able to dive into UCLA head first, and make a splash.

I was resilient. I was able to give, believe, grow and smile while doing so.

Mark Batterson put it best, I've come full circle. 


As you draw the circle, who's in yours?


Friday, September 8, 2017

His vs Hers: Rookie Year

To set the record straight, I'm his BIG sister.

Sure, he may have me in height and intellect and quick-wittedness, but I have him in months.

18 to be exact.

When we were younger we used to be mistaken for twins.


We may not be twins, but we've been best friends ever since his arrival, 18 months after mine.

I know it might be confusing to most since we graduated in the same year and all, but I believe it to be quite fitting, being that we've been in most of the same classes our whole lives.

Luke is a rare breed.

Year by year, he made a solid "100%" in all of my math classes. Yes, he was in my math classes. 

He may have gotten a perfect score on the math portion of his SAT & ACT, and he may have racked up every possible academic award at our annual academic banquet, but what I always had on him was athletics.


5 years ago I was making the guy crutch around from official visit to official visit.


From All-American Game to first tip-off of my freshman year.


5 minutes from now he'll be walking through the door after another morning pick-up session with Melo.

In New York City.

It feels funny typing. For several reasons:

1.) "New York City"

I have to admit-- ever since age 8 I've been spoiled.

It's 100% likely that before the age of 8 I was spoiled too, but that's neither here nor there.

Ever since I was 8, my mom took me to New York for an annual mother/daughter girl’s trip.


We never brought the boys.

The one time we did take the boys a homeless man berated Luke outside of Grand Central Station and he was scarred from that moment on.

I tried to mend his fragile heart with Serendipity sundaes, the Nintendo Store, the clearance rack at the NBA Store and handmade signature signs of his favorite baseball team, but his heart could not be wooed.


For the first time, Nicole and Luke were at a crossroads.

I was a big city girl, and he was a small-town boy. 

I'm now 23, and after a 5-year absence from the Big Apple due to a little round ball, a little round ball has brought me back in a round-a-bout way.

2.) The New York Knicks

Now this is really where it gets funny.

Let's flashback to the night of the NBA Draft.

We were at our house in Lexington, Kentucky and my entire family was over. "Entire family" insinuates grandma, grandpa, Godfather Larry, cousin Joey, crazy Steve, and many, many more.

Before the draft kicked off, we each put the name of the team we thought Luke would get drafted to in a big bowl.


I was the only one who put down the New York Knicks.

Why?

Because New York City has been my favorite city ever since I was 8. LA has been creeping up as of late, but the heart knows where its loyalty lies.

I put down the New York Knicks because Jeff Hornacek is head coach.

Jeff Hornacek played for the Jazz when my dad played for the Bucks.

Jeff Hornacek lived in Phoenix when the Kornets lived in Phoenix.

Jeff Hornacek was the head coach of St. Thomas’ 5th grade girl’s basketball team at the time.

Frank Kornet was the head coach of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel’s 5th grade girl’s basketball team at the time.

In other words, Jeff and Frank both had daughters in the 5th grade.


Daughters that played each other in back-to-back-to-back Catholic school girl's basketball tournaments year after year after year.

Daughters that, with Coach Hornacek at the helm, joined forces to nearly lead the Air Angelz to a Summer League championship, had we not lost to the all-boys team in the final game.

You win again testosterone.


10 years later, and we're still bitter.


So, when the opportunity presented itself to put a team name in the bowl on draft night, I had to go with my gut—The New York Knicks.

For what seemed to be like four hours and an eternity later, the draft concluded.

He didn’t get picked.

But as soon as the last pick was selected, Luke’s phone rang.

And then it rang again. And again. And again.

And then finally, it was an offer that Luke couldn’t refuse.

The decision was final—Luke was going to be a New York Knick.


3.) Pick-up with Carmelo

I remember when Carmelo and LeBron were drafted. They were the talk of the town.

Still wonder why.

I don't start my job at UCLA until October 1st, so I have the entire month of September off.

I've been in New York for a week now.

Every morning Luke wakes up at 7am and comes home just after 3pm. I've had the best week. And that sounds crazy coming from a girl who was hospitalized day two of the trip. 

As my mother calls me, a"natural" beauty

I came down with a mean case of pneumonia and perhaps a few other ailments, but again, that's neither here nor there.

From what I thought was going to be a month long of perusing the city on my tandem bike for one, galavanting the streets of NY during fashion week, and drinking mimosas with the fashion icon himself, Mr. Russell Westbrook, my week has drastically turned into quite the opposite.

Picture a stoic, bedridden, greasy-haired "beauty" glued to the TV.

This week's features have included Hercules, Leah Remini's Scientology and the Aftermath, roughly 97 episodes of The Office, and a few gut-wrenching showings of Beyond Scared Straight. 

Luke and I have had a lot of alone time this past week.

And he's loved every second of it.

Even with the past five years of off and on separation, we've covered a lot of ground.

Just like we never left.

The guy still loves to show me YouTube videos I refuse to call funny, impersonate scenes of Westside Story in the living room, and sleep in his Tom Brady pajamas.

My favorite part, though?

When he comes home from playing pick-up with Melo.

“Nicole, I'm playing against these guys who used to be on my 2K teams, and I'm like 'ah, that's neat' but then I realize they're on the other team and I kinda hate them at that moment."

Nowadays we all try and act like we've been there. It's all about one-upping the other guy. But that show gets tiring. That show's all an act. What's cool is being your authentic self. What's cool is being grateful about the opportunity you've been given, and making the most of it.

It hurt him when he didn't get drafted. 

For a minute.

After a minute, he got up, smiled at all of us and said, "I'm going to New York."

Sometimes the most devastating blows turn into the most beautiful unknowns, when you have the mindset of a Luke Kornet.

He doesn't care what everyone thinks. He knows who he is.

He doesn't care who he's playing against. He knows what he can do.

He doesn't care how many likes he gets on a picture. That's if his girlfriend and I can even get him to post a picture. 

He doesn’t care if his friends are NBA champions like Damian Jones or former 8th grade B-team slot receivers like Daniel Fife. He loves people for their hearts, not their names.

Heck, he doesn't even care if his cowlicks stick up like Alfafa all day. 

Even though it makes his sister cringe.

Pre-hair quaffage seconds before The King takes center court.

He cares about the things that matter. And that's what I admire most about my little brother, and will always admire about my little brother.

It’s been so fun to watch him in his new life.

The way he shops for himself, cooks for himself, takes care of himself, and even brushes his hair all by himself now truly amazes me.

Craziest part of it all is that he knows the city better than big sis now, and he hasn't even been here a month yet. He watches Broadway shows and doesn't roll his eyes during the musical numbers now.


He loves NYC and what he gets to do for it now.

He's a professional basketball player for the New York Knicks.


Who will always be my little brother.