Q & A with Coach Cornette

Iowa Assistant Coach Joel Cornette sat down with Hawkeye Nation recently for a magazine piece that will run in our September issue, due to hit the shelves in early August. However, it was impossible to fit a 55-minute interview into one story. As a result, a lot of good stuff was available for this Q &A. Among the topics of discussion are recruiting, Coack Todd Lickliter and David Palmer.

Has anything surprised you in the field of coaching?

I haven't been surprised by a whole lot. I would say it's interesting how much it helps being a former college player as far as just being able to relate to the guys; understanding situations; what they're going through as student athletes. That's been a surprise in a way, how much of a breakdown I do of my career and comparing it to theirs and try to interact with them on that level on some days.

At the same time, I have to be the bad guy on other days. I do sympathize with their situation a lot of the time, but it's more of a do as a say not as I did situation. That surprise has also been one of the better things about it. I feel like I've gotten a chance to get close to a lot of our guys. I enjoy the time that I spend with them. Although we didn't have the season that I wish we would have had, and although it was tough on them and tough on me and the rest of the staff, we've done a good job of moving on and having a positive outlook heading into next year.

What's most important to you when you're recruiting a player?

First and foremost, there's obviously a skill set that's needed, depending on the position we're recruiting and what we need for the team. A lot of guys will tell you the thing they'll look for is a great teammate or size or all that. You do. But at the end of the day they've got to be able to play basketball and play it the way that you want them to.

From there, I do look at things like how they interact with their teammates. Are they the guy that helps a teammate up off of the floor when they took a charge or dove out of bounds for a ball. I like to see guys who are aggressive; at the same time, aggressive in the team concept; guys that like having the ball in their hands to either make a play or make a play for somebody else. Guys who just show up in the gym with a smile on their face but when the ball goes up, and I hate to use this term but I really don't, have a hatred for their opponent. They just want to dominate that game and make sure those guys leave thinking they never want to play against that kid and his team again. That's what I grew up watching.

I was part of the Larry Bird-Magic Johnson-Michael Jordan Era where those guys wanted to rip your heart out. After the game they might go out to dinner with you, but for that 48 minutes they were playing it wasn't going to be fun for you. I don't know if we'll ever get a guy with talent like those three, but if we can find kids with type of desire and motivation, which I think we've started to do, we'll be successful.

Why do you like working with Todd Lickliter?

He's got a great understanding of how to deal with people. As someone who is close to him, he's a guy that's a straight shooter. He's very honest and loyal. And when you're talking about a boss, I don't know if you could ask for anything better in a description than that. I've always described him as my second father.

How did it go down when he asked you to come to Iowa?

When that call came, the story I tell everyone is he asked me and ‘Vall if we'd like to join the staff. We talked to Brad Stevens who was going to get the head coaching job at Butler, told him our plans, we got the call that afternoon to come to Iowa and we left that night, drove through the night and were at work the next morning.

That says a lot about the relationship we have with coach and how much trust we have in him. It also shows how much faith he has in us. A 28-yea-old guy and a 26-year-old guy, there are probably guys out there more experienced on paper, but we've been through the wars, we've battled and played at the highest level. We won at the highest level. We're very familiar with his system and what he's trying to implement and what kind of program we're trying to build here.

Was the first year at Iowa what you expected?

I would definitely say that it was more difficult and not because of the win-loss record. Coming from Butler, the system and the setup had been there for so long that you only recycled two or three players a year and everyone just kind of followed in step. Our players were able to teach the guys behind them. As a coach, you always knew what you were doing. You just went out, called out a drill and guys did it.

Here, there was so much breakdown every day. It was hard to say let's do this drill and just get into it. You had to stop, teach the guys the drill, and maybe re-teach it again the next day. Now, you're spending a lot more time just preparing to practice let alone for game situations and what you're going to do then.

I can't speak for everybody on the staff, but that was difficult for me. Things that were like clockwork where we came from was more like open heart surgery out here. And that's no knock against the guys we have. It would be that way if we took over any program. There's just no continuity there.

That's going to be one of the big reasons we're going to be more successful next year. We now have six guys who can teach our guys coming in what exactly we're expecting of them. They can be player coaches in a way. We, as a coaching staff, are too old and not in good enough shape to demonstrate exactly what we want from these guys.

What's the dynamic like on this coaching staff? Who's the joker?

In the office, there are four jokesters. You have to have some thick skin to come up here. I love it. I can't imagine having more fun with a staff; playing with ‘Vall and being close friends with him throughout my college career and into my coaching career. Getting a chance to meet and coach with Chad has been tremendous.

All four of us have very different personalities and styles as far as the way we coach and how we relate to our guys. I do get more of the bad cop persona. I think it's mainly because I'm still so close to being a player. I don't know that I'm going to react the same way and handle guys the same way as I get older.

Right now, I just can't sometimes deliver the message in an indoor tone, let's put it that way. Our players understand that. I rarely, if ever, try to be demeaning to our guys. It's just the gym is loud. I'm excited. I'm fired up. They're fired up. I feel like I have to deliver it in a way that's going to be with the most impact.

I do also evaluate the guys who I'm talking to and try to figure out if that's the right approach for them and change it depending on who the guy is. I came up with that by reading Red Auerbach's book a long time ago and how he felt like each player was a different individual. Yeah, you're a team and you're collectively trying to accomplish something, but different things make different guys tick. It's the ability to learn all 13 or 15 or how ever many guys are on your roster and how to push their right buttons.

There are definitely guys I'm tougher on. There are definitely guys who I talk to with a higher volume. But I do appreciate and love every single guy that is a part of this program and only want to do what's best for them. I also appreciate the freedom coach gives us to do that. I don't know if you'll see many benches in the country where the assistants are so involved.

Of what are you most proud in your playing career?

I'm most proud of the relationships I've formed, the bonds that I have with my teammates. In the past week, I've talked to six guys I played with.

There are plenty of guys that go to college and win a lot of games and make it to the tournament and end up with a great degree, but there's a select few of us who look back and say that I fit in perfectly to a situation with guys that I'll call my friends for life. That's more important.

I have a marketing degree and I ended up in coaching. My team won 100 games when I was in college but I'm not a professional basketball player. But the guys that I played with, until the day I die, I'm going to call my best friends.

When you decided to go into coaching, why did you choose the college level?

I thought that it would be too difficult for me to go back and coach at a level that I hadn't been a part of for a while. High school basketball coaches are amazing. For me it would have been difficult dealing with the different talent ranges that you have to deal with in high school basketball.

In college, you're picking your players. You know what you want and you get that every year for the most part, the type of players you want to coach. It's really luck of the draw when it comes to high school.

What's your opinion of David Palmer the basketball player?

If you would ask David, he would tell you the same thing. Part of his issue is that he's played for a lot of guys. There's never been a time when he could sit in a program and learn from one head coach, develop under one system, be taught the same thing day in and day out at practice and learn that way.

I can't promise what David's role will be next year just like I couldn't for anybody else on the team. I do know that he's worked extremely hard this off season in the classroom, weight room and on the floor. He understands what's going to be expected from him for him to get on the court next year. He understood this year, but it was difficult for David because of so much change.

The kid has had six coaches or something in the last seven or eight years or something like that, which is amazing. So, part of it is from our end, making sure David understands what's expected of him and part of it is from his end, making sure he's putting in the work and focusing on exactly what we're teaching, what we're asking of him because it's a different situation for him.

David has a little bit less of a base developed because of how many coaches he's played for. He's handled it terrifically. He's been a great teammate. Even though he played limited minutes, he was the guy always pulling for the other guys during the game. I think if you asked the entire coaching staff he's one of the guys we're most proud of.

You never know. Maybe something will click and hopefully he has a terrific year next year. But at the end of the day, he's going to graduate with an Iowa degree. I think he'll tell you that we're going to give him a fair shot. If he's the guy that gives us the best chance to win a basketball game, he's going to be out on the floor.


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