Cornette Speaks About Freeman Transfer

At 26, Joel Cornette is not that far removed from his senior season at Butler University. The Iowa Assistant understands that it's not always easy for players in Division I basketball and felt bad about how things went down with former Hawkeye guard Tony Freeman leaving the program recently. Cornette shares his feelings on the transfer and also lends keen insight from a coach/player standpoint.

Joel Cornette played for three different head coaches in his four years at Butler. It wasn't always easy despite the Bulldogs hiring from within.

The rangy big man considered if life would be better at another school. In the end, he decided he was attending the right university.

"For me, my strongest commitment was always to my teammates who stayed," the Iowa assistant said. "Even though I had options to leave and go elsewhere, I wanted to complete the journey with the guys that I came in with. That bond was what was special to me. I've never regretted it a day in my life, not leaving. It worked out well in the end."

Cornette would have missed being a four-year starter for a little school that reached in the NCAA Tournament three times and the NIT once during his time there. At only 26, he remembered his situation vividly when he recently was on the other side of the fence.

Tony Freeman, the Hawkeyes leading scorer from last season, decided he would leave the program a few weeks ago. Cornette sympathized.

"I think that it's always hard," Cornette said. "Tony left the school that he originally committed to for whatever his reasons are. You as a coach never want to see guys leave because that means that it didn't work out. No matter who is at fault, I think we should all claim part of it."

In reading the Hawkeye Nation message boards, the majority of Iowa fans have taken head coach Todd Lickliter's side. Freeman has been portrayed as a selfish player and person in the words of many followers of the program.

It's human nature to want to drop the blame at someone's feet when these breakups happen. But in life as in love, everybody involved contributes in some way to the parting of ways.

It's unfortunate that things couldn't have worked out with Freeman and Iowa. From what I learned over the last three years, Tony was a good kid and cared about the Hawkeyes. And the coaching staff left an established program at Butler to rebuild Iowa so we know their intentions.

Sometimes, things just don't work out.

"At the end of the day, he's not going to complete his time as an Iowa Hawkeye," Cornette said. "That's tough to sit back and think about from any side of it. I would like to hope that it's something that rarely happens, but it's definitely part of the game the way it works today."

Freeman chose to finish his career at Southern Illinois, a decision he announced on Sunday after visiting the school over the weekend. In a move reminiscent of the movie Groundhog Day, the guard continued to take shots at the Iowa coaches, insinuating they pushed him out the door because he didn't fit their system. He has told every newspaper that would listen this story over the last few weeks.

"Obviously, I wish him the best," Cornette said. "He's going to a heck of a team in Southern Illinois. Like I said, it is disappointing to think that it couldn't work out, but we have to move on. So does he.

"I would hope that there is no grudge held because I think Tony is a good kid and will be very successful at Southern Illinois. I hope as he looks back that it isn't as bad as he once thought that it was."

Cornette is older and wiser than he was when he played. But he's close enough to that time that he understands that Freeman is hurt and is blowing off steam. He also sincerely hopes to be able to shake Tony's hand again someday.

Lickliter has spoken publicly on this issue just once. He held a teleconference last week and sidestepped a barrage of media questions trying to get his side of the story. He chose to keep what was said between Freeman and him private.

That was definitely the best way for a 50-year-old man to handle the situation. He loses if he gets in a war of words with a former player. Even if his story prevails in the court of public opinion, he loses integrity points by going public.

But assistant coaches often are closer to the players. They sometimes play the good cop to the head coach's bad cop. They're usually younger and relate better to the athletes on a personal level.

Cornette is less than 10 years removed from his freshman season at Butler. That year, a popular teammate, Mike Hicks, decided to leave the Bulldog program for the University if Texas at Arlington.

"It was one of the weirder decisions I've ever seen in my life," Cornette said. "It kind of opened my eyes to some of the realities of college basketball."

Former Hawkeye standout and NBA world champion Bobby Hansen once told me he believes a lot of college athletes consider transferring but don't end up following through on it. He thought about it while playing for legendary coach Lute Olson

"This doesn't deal with Tony's situation, but a lot of times when guys transfer or think about transferring it always looks a lot easier when you see guys that have done it," Cornette said. "You're not there every day having to sit out and watching other guys play games and wanting to be on the floor so badly every day."

Freeman only retains one year of eligibility and will have to sit out next season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.

"It would be interesting to talk to guys that have transferred and find out how many thought it was the right decision after it was all done," Cornette said.

When guys like Hicks and Freeman leave a program after establishing themselves, it often leaves their former teammates to scratch their heads. It almost becomes a dirty secret.

"It's hard because a lot of times there is limited contact about it," Cornette said. "It's a touchy situation to bring up. It's awkward to talk about. You came in with the understanding that you were going to play with this guy for X number of years. Now, he's got to move on. It was shocking to me to have it happen my freshman year."

It will leave a mark on Freeman, his ex-teammates and the coaches. It's just one of those situations. But it happens. And like Cornette said, let's hope all parties can heal in time.

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