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.

9 comments:

  1. Why did I tear up! Good read. Love those frog slickers! I'll cheer for him in the NBA. 🐢

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great read, though it was hard finishing it with sweaty eyes. Thanks to Luke for what he has accomplished at Vandy. I wish him, and yourself, continued success in the future. Go Dores!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nicole, as we say down South: "Sweet" and there is no better description of this poignant post. Your father, mother and Luke have meant so much to Vanderbilt and now you. Thanks for the memories.
    Jerry Reves, MD

    ReplyDelete
  4. If there ever was the perfect candidate for a redshirt, it was Luke...can't believe what he has done for the Vanderbilt family. He will not be forgotten soon!! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your brother!! Anchor Down!!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Very touching - great family love! Missed watching you at OU but so happy your move to UCLA turned out so well. Good luck Nic/ Go Bruins!!!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Great read. I will miss seeing Luke on court at Memorial Gym next year. He has represented VU so well and he is just such a likeable guy. Thanks for this post, and congrats on the first round win. Good luck to UCLA the rest of the way and to you, wherever the road may lead.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Good luck on the court, can't wait to see what the next chapter holds for Luke ... and I have to ask, any chance journalism is in your future? Well written!

    ReplyDelete
  8. That...was awesome. Great family, great futures, great teammates, both at school, and at home. Go Bruins.

    ReplyDelete