Wednesday, May 10, 2017

I'm Big in China

"Can I kiss you?"

Proclaimed one little boy as I stepped foot outside of the locker room.

Doesn't matter if you're black, white, tall, or small go to China and you'll have suitors at your beck and call.

As long as you look like you come from the red, white, and blue (the Canadians were frequently mistaken) the people of Asia will be enthralled by you.


Come to be crowned "quasi-celebrities," we Americans instantly realized our pre-pubescent, dream-like fantasies were coming to fruition-- we were Hollywood heartthrobs.

No more secretly hiding that "nose scratch" of yours. Your gold-digging tactics will soon be shared nationwide if you're not careful.

Our entourage 

Life overseas... takes a man, baby.

One is inextricably sown to any and/or every American one happens to come into contact with while across the pond. I feel as if I'm bonded for life to the girls I lived these past two weeks with, especially after an adventure such as the one I am about to describe to you in vivid detail. 

After fourteen days enduring cauldrons full of mystery meat, I have chosen to provide detailed descriptors in lieu of showing you all the grotesque, life-like delicacies themselves. 

Savory black fungus, fried fish skin, and crisp duck tongue to name a few. Versions of non-vommitable protein quickly became a hot commodity due to the lack thereof.

 Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Aside from the food, another particular issue hit home with me. 

China, the communist country, ain't so communist after all. While abroad, one of my dear friends and Jesus-loving fiends made it her duty to do just that-- love Jesus. 

Before I took off, my father urged me to go to confession before it was time to leave the U.S.

"You won't be able to go to church for two weeks straight. There aren't any Catholic Churches in China. So get your butt to confession while you still can."

Gotta love him.

Back to my Jesus-loving friend. We all know it's Kari I'm talking about, so let me refer to her as her most-fitting title in order to spare us all the frequency of her mentions in my blog.

My Jesus-loving friend made it her duty to spread the Christian spirit every day. In fact, she stayed up late most nights using Google translator in order to figure out the correct Kanji necessary to spell out the phrase "Jesus loves you." She wanted to pass these little slips of paper around to the Chinese athletes we played, the pedestrians in the streets, the extremely creative, talented, multi-dimensional Chinese culinary chefs, and anyone else she could possibly whisk away with her piercing eye contact.


She'll be canonized as a saint any day now.

The moral of the story is-- Kari didn't go to jail. One of our translators even said there are free-standing Christian churches found throughout China. You just have to look a little harder for them.

China has come a long way. 

Which brings me to point #1.

Point #1:

Stereotypes suck.

Yes, their driving may be lackluster. Okay, lackluster may be too kind of verbiage. Perhaps "chaotic" is the right word. But it's not their fault. That's how they've been taught in China. Heck, I don't even think I can use that word either- "taught." Clearly not much teaching was going on in Driver's Ed.

There's only one rule of the road in China:

1.) There are no rules of the road.


Back to the stereotypes. Stop making them. Before coming to China, I was heavily surrounded by Chinese at UCLA. Approximately 32% of UCLA is made up of Asians. 

Immersing myself into the Chinese culture finally allowed me to understand why they do what they do, and how they do it.

So before you go making stereotypes about someone who doesn't look like you, walk like you, or dress like you, take the time to put yourself in their shoes. Even if they're 10 sizes too small. 

One of the main stereotypes I was guilty of forming myself prior to visiting China was the breathtakingly unpleasant, repugnant smell that so frequently grazed my nasal passages whenever coming into contact with most differing nation groups.

The smells. Man, the smells. 


As you can see, everything makes sense once taking the time to see how one lives, how one grows up, and how hard it must be for that certain someone to break certain habitual routines.

Sure, a little peer pressure never hurt nobody...when it comes to the discovery of deodorant. But for the most part, out with the stereotypes and in with the acceptance!

Point #2:

Love your neighbor as the Chinese.

You know that child-like faith you once had? Faith that everyone should be nice to you? Faith that everyone wants the best for you? Faith that everyone loves you?
That child-like faith resides in the Chinese. I'm convinced of it.


Peace resides in simplicity. The Chinese showed me that. 

Point #3:

Sports rock.


Before I left, my mom couldn't help but laugh at the striking parental resemblance. 

My mom left for Tokyo to become a backup singer and dancer for a Japanese pop-star (I know, right) (who does that?) (Tracy Kornet) (that's who) at this exact same stage in her life (age 23), while my dad left the NBA for Europe just a few years after. 

And there I was-- off to Asia like my mother, playing ball like my dad.


Coming into this experience, I thought of myself as a somewhat disciplined, dedicated individual. But then I met the Chinese. Team China was a well-oiled, fine-tuned machine. That's why it took us two games to beat them. The way each and every girl listened to their coach, nodded their heads in unison, and not once spoke out of line inspired me. 

Too often I put myself above others, thinking I'm the one who deserves the starting spot, or play-call for the last second shot, but the Chinese silenced those ill-willed thoughts immediately. They made me feel embarrassed for even having them.

You can always be better. You are always replaceable. You should never stop growing.

Thank you Team China for communicating to me, despite the language barrier, how to be a woman of action, respect, dignity, and honor.

Not only was I fortunate enough to learn from other countries, but I was able to learn just as much, if not more, from the myriad personalities showcased on our very own Team USA.

Best part of it all was that all four countries were able to come together to do something we all know how to do very well-- play.


Even if it took a less than lovely, round-a-bout way of doing so.


Even if it took a few, or nine, unscheduled, self-manufactured, off-hours a day.


I got to fly halfway across the world in order to represent my country. And let me tell you, we did one heck of a job representing it.

Gold medal good.

Introducing to you all, two ringless seniors who got to take a little hardware back to the homeland and proudly say,

God bless the USA!    

Me 
(& Kari)

Bloopers:




Until next time, China. Signing off and signing out, Nicole Kornet.


Monday, April 24, 2017

I'm Going to China

My basketball career ended like many others across the country-- with a loss.

Afterwards, I realized that the young, whippersnapper I once was, was no longer young. 

Five seasons later, I stand at the ripe age of 23, eagerly awaiting the day my four to five toddlers scurry about a safely confined, white picket fenced-in acre of bluegrass, with a dashing husband to boot. 

Yet, in order for that pipe dream to become a reality, a certain someone has to get a certain something.

I need a job.

___________

I remember sitting in the locker room after my last game looking around from player to player. Some had the sniffles, some were already talking about next year, and some (me) were smiling. Don't get me wrong, I was devastatingly sad about the fact that my season was over, my career was over, and my team's tournament run was over, but I couldn't help but think to myself-- I did it.



I was raised on horror stories of college basketball. My father loved to tell us kiddos how many suicides he ran in college, how little college coaches cared about one's own feelings, and how hard it was to maintain a solid grade point average amongst a practice schedule straight from hell.

He likes to exaggerate.

Now you all know where I get it from. Contrary to popular belief, I don't get it from Tracy.

___________

For us kids on the West Coast, the quarter system is in full effect.

Meaning, we were playing in the Sweet Sixteen smack dab in the middle of finals week. 
Meaning, after the game it was Spring Break. 
Meaning, we lost; so I got to go on Spring Break.

My friends and I decided to pack up the car, mattress pad and all, and drive. We explored the entire coast of California in 5 days, on a budget of $197.15. I can tell you how we managed to do so on a following blog. Fascinating stuff. It took a few nights sleeping with a seatbelt cemented into your torso, lots of McDonald's, and an abundance of dedicated and loyal friends scattered across the coast graciously willing to house us when we couldn't quite stand the foot funk much longer. 

As soon as we piled into the car and merged onto the 405, I got an email. It was from my assistant coach. 

The subject line read, "Invitation to China Tour for Nicole Kornet and Kari Korver"

At first glance, I laughed.

I had been getting a bunch of emails from agents, coaches, and Euro-basket leagues reaching out asking the looming question,

"Are you playing professionally??"

No. 
Heck no. 
No, no, no. 

Remember that plan I so vividly detailed for you all in paragraph #1?? Playing in Europe doesn't fit into those parameters.

I love basketball with all of my heart. I love it, but I'm ready to be done with it. It's time to hang up the sneakers and go to work. I'm no Kelsey Plum. I know where I stand. Sure I could delay the inevitable and play overseas for a few years. I could explore the world, meet new people, and keep playing, but I don't want to. I want to stay in the USofA. I want to live on Top Ramen and pb&j sandwiches and pick up my boss's coffee and work from dawn till dusk and get very little for it. 

Yeah, I want to enter the work force.

After reading further into this "Invitation to China Tour" email it became loud & clear. I had been selected to be a part of the USA All-Star Team. I was asked to come to China, all expenses paid.

3 cities, 9 games, 14 days.

We play Lithuania, Canada, and of course, China; it's a world-wide, round-robin Four Nations tournament smack dab in the middle of China.

Now that's something I can't say no to. Even if I want to "hang up the sneakers." 

Best part is that my teammate Kari is invited too. The dynamic duo ain't done yet.



I emailed my coach back. Well, I called my mom first and asked permission, and then I emailed my coach back, and told him...

"I'm going to China."

___________

Just two hours before I had hopped in the car ready to traverse the land of milk and honey for Spring Break, I was on my first-ever job interview. 



I was offered an internship at Wasserman Sports Agency here in LA. Halfway through the season I knew my time as an athlete was coming to a close, therefore I knew I had to make a move in the job market.

It was time.

Wasserman offered me an internship for the spring. I graciously took it...and then proceeded to tell them about China.

"Nicole, GO!"

"We'll start you after you get back."

I'm really excited about this opportunity, but like I said, it's an internship. As soon as school ends, my internship ends too. 

I didn't join Wasserman because I want to be a sports agent. I joined because one should always say yes when opportunity comes a knockin' at my age. Wasserman is an uncommon agency, run by uncommon people, seeking uncommon results. I believe in the vision they have to help athletes, like my little brother, fulfill lifelong dreams of attaining a professional career in sports. 

Heck, I'm all about that.

However, my dream job involves a camera in front of my face. Somehow. Some way.

Fact of the matter is, I want to be on tv. That's all I know for sure. I don't think I necessarily want to be like mom, and I know I don't want to play professionally like my dad, but I think it would be really cool to combine the two. 

Maybe I could do commercials.
Or sports modeling.
Or sideline-reporting.



I love sports. Not just basketball, but football, golf, frisbee golf, volleyball, baseball, softball, horse racing-- you name it, I love it.



I may be done playing organized basketball, but that doesn't mean I'm done immersing myself in it on a M-F, 8-5 basis.

I think what would be really cool is to have my own "behind-the-scenes" show. I want to dig a little deeper. I could interview athletes in order to find that story we all really want to know. 

And then play them.

Maybe not in the sport they are paid millions to play, but in another. Just for some humor purposes. For some candid moments on camera, because that's the athlete we all want to see. The human.

Does that sound great or does that sound great?

___________

I leave for China tonight. I get to have my Kobe farewell tour once and for all, amongst the Chinese. Upon my return, I'll be a broke working woman, struggling to find that big break in order to live out my wildest dreams. 

One day I'll have that job in front of the camera, with a hunk-a-burnin-love by my side teaching little Jimmy to keep his elbow in and his wrist cocked.

BUT,

If you or any of your friends know someone who can make my wildest dreams come true just a little bit faster, you know where to reach me.

Until then, I'll be in China representing Team USA. Maybe this time I can finally end with a win, and a gold medal around my neck.





Friday, March 17, 2017

The End

Losing in college is equivalent to a root canal, to taking a huge bite of that juicy bratwurst then watching a huge dollop of spicy Dijon mustard fall off the back of the bun and onto your freshly washed white t, to annihilating your fourth toe against the corner of the kitchen island as you peel around the countertop in a rush to take the cookies out of the oven.

In other words, losing sucks.

Last night, however, I felt a type of loss that only a senior can feel.

Luke played in his last game as a Vanderbilt Commodore.


Watching Luke has been the highlight of my week, every week. 

Thank you SEC Network for allowing me to watch my little brother halfway across the country these past four years. Yes, it's typically at 3 in the afternoon, smack dab in the middle class, but that's what privacy folders and earbuds under the shirt are for. What the professor doesn't see won't hurt him.

As of late, I've been wishing time would just stop. 

Basketball has been the most fun it has ever been this past year. 

After my junior season at Oklahoma, before I had even known I was going to transfer, I knew I wasn't ready to be a senior. I wasn't ready for it to be over. I wasn't ready to hang up the sneakers.

I'm not saying I'm ready now, but I do know my heart is so much more full. I do know that playing my senior season alongside my little brother has been a dream come true. That sneaking off to Nashville in between off days to cheer him on was something I never thought would be a possibility for me. 

Let me tell ya why.

Luke Francis Kornet is an angel.

Back in high school, the attention wasn't exactly ever on him. Recruitment mayhem started in 8th grade. Not for Luke, but for me. Year by year, Luke would sit there at the kitchen island filtering through my letters with me. He was always so proud-- never jealous, never wishing he could be me, never saddened that I was getting all the praise and that he was just the little brother along for the ride. He was excited. Genuinely excited. He loved basketball with all of his heart, and if it meant that I could play for a Division 1 school in college, he was over the moon. He was so happy for me.

Coaches would come over for home visits and he would politely introduce himself, then scurry back over to the kitchen table and finish his Calculus homework. At 3:30 sharp it was time for Pardon The Interruption and Capn' Crunch. 

Hours later, the coaches would leave and Luke would begrudgingly help tutor me with my own math homework. Remember, I'm the older sister. I'm the older sister, yet we were in the same math class. He was so advanced he was in my grade's math class. Thanks to him, my homework assignments never wavered below a 100%.

By the time my senior year hit, I finally signed on the dotted line. I was off to Oklahoma.



The day I stepped foot outside of my house and left for Norman, that boy flourished. He came to life.



He was a keen 6'7" or so back then. Still had a silky stroke, but had the body of a broken bird. He was a string bean with really big shins. After a disappointing loss in his state-semifinal game against Nolan Catholic, I realized Luke wouldn't get that chance that I got after high school. His career would be over. He'd be done playing the sport he loved so much. The sport my mom would cringe over because whenever someone would ask the brilliant boy who read Harry Potter at age 5, the one with a perfect score on his Math ACT portion, the one who knew how to do his older sister's physics homework before he had even taken a physics course himself, wanted to play in the NBA, and not be an engineer.



__________

I remember it like it was yesterday. My old AAU coach asked me a question.

"Nic, where's Luke going to school next year?" 

"I'm not sure. I think he said he really liked SMU when he went on his college visits."

"Wait, you're telling me the boy is as tall as your father and can shoot like you and he's not going anywhere to play??"

Coach Adrian signed him up for a tournament for unsigned seniors the following weekend. 

That weekend Luke went off. 

The next day, his phone went off too.

Arizona, Kansas State, Oklahoma... Vanderbilt.

Coaches from across the country wanted the gangly kid with uncapped potential who could shoot it from deep.

As many of you know, my father played at Vanderbilt. Luke & I were born in Lexington, Kentucky. So we made many-a-roadtrip to Nashville. My father would happily prance through campus reminiscing about his glory days, trying his best to lure me back to his alma mater, as I sat in the backseat shaking my head wishing I could just get another cool t-shirt from the campus store and hit the road again. Meanwhile, Luke was mesmerized.

"I want to go to Vanderbilt, dad."



Unfortunately, my father & I knew that was a bleak possibility. I was in the backseat, with a Vanderbilt offer in hand, and Luke was the kid with a pipe dream and a prayer.

__________

I will forever be indebted to Coach Kevin Stallings. 



He saw Luke for what he is today when no one else did. He saw what my father saw. A kid who hadn't even hit puberty and was already 6'9". A kid who could knock down the 3 ball, had a mean lefty jump hook, and had the IQ of an engineer. 

Coach Stallings offered Luke right after his record-breaking unsigned senior tournament debut, along with several other coaches.

I remember getting off the phone with Luke the following day. He had told me he had a couple of visits lined up. Vanderbilt was slated for visit #1. 

As soon as he said that, I knew Vanderbilt was going to be his first and last. He was going to Vanderbilt. He told us in the backseat when he was 10.

Looking back at it now, it's hard to remember the way Luke was even a couple of years ago. The days when Luke's voice was higher than mine and he could belt out Aretha Franklin with the best of 'em.

But now?

He's a man, baby.



Luke is a man who is still getting bigger. Who is still getting better.

Think about his freshman year, Vandy fans. 


Now look where he is now.



He's just getting started.

My favorite part, however, has been watching him blossom into the man he is off the court. He's still that same goofy, lanky, brilliant, servant-hearted, emotional, loving, caring kid we all know and love who goes by the name of @bigshin32. He hasn't changed a bit.






The recognition, the awards, the prestige, the "NBA" talk-- none of it has phased him. He's still that same little kid who wanted to go to Vanderbilt, who wants to go to the NBA. 

He's still my little brother.





__________

After last night, it hit me.

Luke's time at Vanderbilt University is finished. No more Tracy cameos, no more setting my alarm for 9am PT to catch an 11am CT game, no more logging on to Twitter to find my favorite Vandy fans cheering on my beloved little bro.



It's over.

And it hits you like a brick wall. 

When you're a senior, losing the game isn't the only thing on your mind either.

The game you've played since you were 3, the game that has taught you how to overcome the deepest adversity, the game that has brought together 15 of the most diverse individuals, the game that has made you into the person you are today is over. 

The countless car rides where my older brother and father would scream at each other after a loss, the cones I would set up on the street to practice my A.I. like agility, the broken ankles and wrists that would ensue on the Kornet driveway, the thank you cards your college coaches force you to write, the community service you have to endure on an off-day, the Spring Breaks you miss, the Christmas Breaks that get cut short, the tears after a heartbreaking loss, the joy after your school's name is called on Selection Sunday all comes to an abrupt halt.

There is no "next year."



__________

For many after high school, basketball careers come to an end. For some, after college is when careers finally come to a close. For a select few, careers continue on into the NBA.

But there's something special about those 4 years representing something bigger than yourself with those letters stitched across your chest.

There's something child-like. Something honorable.

__________

Today, I sit at my kitchen table the day before my own First Round NCAA tournament game. My heart is heavy for Luke, but hey, I'm a senior too. Unlike him, there's no professional basketball in my future. There are no guarantees in this life, but I can guarantee I will never play in the NBA. Fifteen days from now the Final Four will take place in Dallas. I have fifteen days, at the most, of college basketball left to play. 

So, why not make little brother proud like he has made me? 

I can't guarantee what will happen tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that, but I can guarantee you that I will forever be grateful for Vanderbilt University, my family, and James Naismith.



Anchor Down. 

And Go Bruins.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Slumped

Let's address the elephant in the room:

I'm a shooter who wears a shooter's sleeve who can't shoot. 

In kinder words, I'm in a slump.


Out of the past four years, this has been the worst drought of my career. I've been purposefully avoiding the stat sheet because, well, it's not too hard to calculate a bunch of goose eggs. 

But, we're winning. 

My team's good. I'm shooting this poorly yet we're still cranking out W's. I'm shooting this poorly yet my coaches are still telling me to shoot. I'm shooting this poorly yet my point guard keeps passing me the ball. I'm shooting this poorly yet the only negative voice I'm hearing is in my own head.

Shooters shoot. 

How does a shooter get out of a slump? They shoot out of it. 

Yeah, yeah, yeah we've heard it all before.

"Keep shooting."
"You're hesitating."
"Don't overthink it."

I missed this.

And this.
Kari & I were a combined 1-17 this game. 
I made the one. Nbd.

My dad called me the other day and told me a story. It was long and drawn out and I spaced out a few times, but nonetheless, he hit the nail on the head.

"What do you say to yourself after you miss a shot?"
"Dad, you know how much I like to shoot. If I miss one, it doesn't matter. You know the next one is going up."
"Let me ask you one more time. What do you say to yourself after you miss a shot?"
"I'll make the next one."
"See, that's negative."
"Huh? No, I'm being positive."
"Think about that statement, Nicole. You're acknowledging the fact that you missed your last shot. That's negative thinking. What you should be saying is 'Give me the dang ball. This is cash.'"

Francis knows. 

Ya see, I've been that player from the day I was born. Every time I touch it I want to shoot it because I know it's going in. Why do I think that? Because of the countless hours I've put in doing just that. From when I was 3 and couldn't even hit rim on a ten foot goal, I'd be out there for hours heaving it up there till I did.

Confidence comes from preparation. 

And that's something I've been lacking lately. Confidence. And preparation. 

Coach gave us two days off this week. Today and tomorrow. For any of you who know Cori Close, THIS IS HUGE.


After yet another night of sulking in sadness due to a treacherous shooting performance the night before, I crawled into my roommate's bed.

"Kari, will you shoot with me?"

For those of you who do not know, Kari went 6-11 from 3 last night. She's wise counsel to seek.

We woke up this morning, despite our precious "off-day sleep-in" routine, and shot. 

Confidence comes from preparation. 

500 shots later, we finished at 80%. Put me in the game, coach.

During season, sometimes one can get too caught up on the game plan. 
Too caught up on the scout.
Too caught up on recovery. 
Too caught up in your weaknesses, and not your strengths.

Now known as a defensive stopper.

In order to get out of my slump, I do need to shoot out of it. 
I do need to not overthink it. 
I do need to stop hesitating. 
But what I really need to do is practice.

Shooting with Kari this morning was so fun. I got lost in the game again. I got lost in the fun. I got lost in playing with my best friend. I got lost in competing.


Tomorrow morning we're going to do the same thing. The next day too, and the day after that, and the day after that. All the way up until we play Cal on Friday.

This is my last go-around. I'm done playing the sport I've played since I was 3 in exactly two months. I can't just wake up in the morning and hope I shoot better next game.

To be honest, as of late, the joy of playing basketball has started to wane. Yes, we're winning and yes that is the most important part, but it is my senior year. This is my last shot. I'm here at UCLA, the happiest I've ever been, shooting the worst I ever have. In order to change the latter I need to do something about it. I need to take matters into my own hands.



Kari doesn't need to. Kari plays almost 40 minutes a game. Her grandma fifth year knees need rest.


But me? I'm a role player. 

I'm a fifth year senior who doesn't start. 

And I'm not afraid to say it. 


My freshman year? I was afraid to say it. It was my main focus to never ever ever be second string. I wanted to be a bad mamba jamba. Three years later, it's safe to say I'm still not the star. I'm a role player. And that's okay. 

Now he's the star.
Oh, how the tables have turned.

Have you seen Jordin Canada and Monique Billings? They're my teammates. And they're on another level. Mo almost dunked on a girl last week. My vertical is about that of a loose leaf sheet of paper. 

I'm framing this for my daughter one day.

Best seat in the house, amirite??
Yeah that's my leg bottom left.
I tripped after selflessly giving her this assist on a breakaway.
Can't you tell why? #LooseLeaf

The coolest part about role players, though? Come March they make or break teams. It's about the work in the dark that comes to light in March. All 14 girls are needed in March. Foul trouble, injuries, (slumps) all seem to take shape during this madness, and more times than none, that's when us role players better step up to the plate.

With that being said, I'm not playing 40 minutes a game. I don't need to rest my weary fifth year playing knees. I need to shoot. I need to be prepared. Because the opportunity may present itself in a big way very, very soon. 

Just after one day of extra shooting my shot feels so much better. I feel so much lighter. I feel so much smoother. I feel like Kobe.

I made this one.

See?

I'm a shooter who wears a shooter's sleeve who can really shoot.