Former Butler basketball star Joel Cornette dies at age 35
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Joel Cornette's passion was always on at Butler University.
He demonstrated it on the basketball court by knocking over a water cooler during Butler's 2003 NCAA Tournament run to the Sweet 16 or soaring over a sea of players for a game-winning dunk against Indiana in 2001. He proved it off the court with his unbridled love for his school, his teammates and fellow Bulldog alums.
Early Tuesday, the 35-year-old former basketball star was found dead in a Chicago apartment, the Cook County medical examiner's office said. The office said after an autopsy the cause and manner of death were pending further studies.
University officials issued a statement, which said Cornette's family was ''devastated by the news'' and those who coached him called it shocking.
''Words can't express what Joel meant to my family, Butler, Indianapolis, basketball and probably anyone he's ever encountered,'' former coach Todd Lickliter said, his voice cracking as he grieved for the Cornettes. ''The only negative I can think of is that he made it very difficult to coach others because he set a bar that was incredible, a standard that was so high. He did things that only winners do.''
For the Bulldogs, it is yet another emotional chapter in what had already been a difficult year.
In January, former center Andrew Smith died after a long battle with cancer. He was 25. Less than a month later, Emerson Kampen's 6-month-old son died from a genetic disorder that affects the central nervous system. Kampen, a former Butler player and a close friend of Smith's, was the team's basketball analyst and video coordinator.
Now Butler has lost another powerful ambassador in Cornette, who played a key role in Butler's transition from rising mid-major program to NCAA Tournament regular and eventually to national contender.
''He made us all Believe,'' former Butler coach and current Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens wrote on Twitter. ''We love you and miss you already (hash)33.''
In four seasons, Cornette scored 1,100 points, grabbed 721 rebounds, played on teams that compiled a record of 100-30 and helped Butler reach its first Sweet 16 in 41 years. He was the first player in school history to score 1,000 points and celebrate 100 victories, and his 144 career blocks and field goal percent of 54.4 are still among the school's top 10.
Cornette grew up in Cincinnati and starred at St. Xavier High School before arriving at Butler, where he made the conference all-defensive team three times and earned second-team all-conference honors as a senior in 2002-03.
And he often reminded teammates to take advantage of their opportunities - especially when the often-overlooked Bulldogs got a chance to play college basketball's big boys such as Indiana, Purdue or Notre Dame, where his younger brother, Jordan, played from 2001-05.
Cornette's insatiable attitude to do virtually anything to win put him at the center of some of Butler's most memorable moments.
The rim-rattling dunk over future NBA player Jared Jeffries with 3.3 seconds left in 2001 ended Indiana's 39-game winning streak in the Hoosier Classic and remains an indelible image for Butler fans.
Two years later, during the Bulldogs' shocking upset of Louisville that sent Butler into the regional semifinals, Cornette soaked his shoes when he ran over the water cooler trying to save the ball. A few moments later, Rob Walls slipped off his size 15 sneakers and handed them to Cornette so he could continue playing.
That win allowed Cornette and two other seniors to sell tickets to their own regional semifinal game in the lobby of Hinkle Fieldhouse.
It was that kind of attitude that won over fans, teammates and eventually everyone else.
''When I think of Joel's contribution and a lasting contribution that was establishing a culture of achievement,'' said athletic director Barry Collier, who recruited Cornette. ''You talk about a guy that didn't believe in limits, that would have been Cornette.''
After graduating in 2003, Cornette returned to the program as director of basketball operations in 2006-07. The next year, he followed Lickliter to Iowa.
Cornette coached with the Hawkeyes for three seasons, then joined Priority Sports & Entertainment as the director of basketball recruiting in 2012.
He always came back to Indianapolis to say hello, make a fundraising pitch or check in on the Bulldogs. He attended the 2010 national championship game against Duke in Indy, spoke to the team each of the past two seasons and continued to stay in touch with current Butler coach Chris Holtmann.
''Butler is a better place because Joel Cornette was a Bulldog,'' wrote Michael Kaltenmark, the school's director of external relations and caretaker of Butler Blue III, the school mascot. ''I will miss him and thank God to have known him.''
Funeral arrangements were pending.