- Glenn Nelson, ESPNHS HoopGurlz
- 0 Shares
From virtually the first day Kornet stepped onto the campus of the small private high school north of the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas, it was "Whitney Hand" this, and "Whitney Hand" that.
"It was like Liberty Christian was Whitney Hand," Kornet said.
When Kornet started playing basketball for Liberty Christian, people then started saying she'd be the next Whitney Hand.
To which Kornet wondered, "Who is Whitney Hand anyway?"
For the record, Hand led Liberty Christian to a Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) Division 5 state championship in 2007. The following summer, she seemingly came out of nowhere, lit the summer evaluation circuit on fire and led Essence to the Nike Nationals gold championship.
The story was so irresistible, Kornet not only emulated it, she answered Hand's call to join her at Oklahoma. The 5-foot-11 guard, ranked by ESPN HoopGurlz as the No. 19 prospect in the 2012 class, committed to the Sooners on Tuesday night. She and Hand, a medical redshirt junior, will have one season together under coach Sherri Coale.
Give her a Hand, literally. Last spring, Kornet led Liberty Christian to a TAPPS Division 5 state championship. Then, playing on the elite level for the first time, burned up the club circuit the following summer.
To those who put stock in parental influence, Kornet's breakout summer should not seem as improbable as it might have at first glance. After all, her father, Frank, was a standout at Vanderbilt and played two seasons in the NBA for the Milwaukee Bucks. Her mother, Tracy, also a Vandy grad, is an Emmy-winning, primetime weeknight news anchor for a CBS affiliate in the gigantic Dallas-Fort Worth market.
In other words, while she appeared to come from humble beginnings, in a basketball sense, Nicole Kornet was no stranger to the spotlight.
"She was prepared with all that excitement," Tracy Kornet said of her daughter. "It's the comfort of embracing the whole thing. She gets energy from that kind of attention."
Besides, her father is 6-9, her older brother, John, is 6-10 and her younger brother, Luke, is 6-4 without yet hitting his growth spurt. Tracy Kornet calls this group, including 5-11 Nicole, her "forest." It's no wonder Nicole Kornet doesn't give a second thought to so many people eyeballing her all the time.
It's not like Kornet was an unknown quantity when she started playing for Cy-Fair Nike Elite last summer. She'd drawn attention while playing for Adrian Washington at Liberty 360, even attracting a scholarship offer from Kansas when she still was a ninth-grader. But no one had viewed her in the context of such elite competition before.
That was by design. Frank Kornet came up in a time when it wasn't completely essential to play big-time club basketball to earn a college scholarship. So he resisted subjecting his daughter to the seriousness and pressure until it became inevitable.
Well, the inevitability, you might say, always was there. It is part of Kornet family lore that when little 4-year-old Nicole couldn't reach a regulation basket with a ball, she kept trying, hour after hour, sometimes refusing to come inside for dinner. That kind of determination, combined with the forces of genetic pooling, led to the development of a lights-out shooter with the skills and instincts to make basketball plays but with the size and power to wreak havoc inside.
And when she took that package to the big time, Nicole Kornet said, "I was not freaked out or panicked."
Kornet credits basketball with coaxing her out of her shyness. Her mother was a singer before she became a news anchor, and basketball, Kornet says, "became my performance."
These days, Nicole Kornet is likely to be found as a more-than-willing participant at dance-offs during Liberty Christian pep rallies.
"I am the opposite of shy," she says.
So it didn't take much prodding at the Oklahoma team camp for Kornet to seek out Hand, who was a counselor. In addition to sharing roots at Liberty Christian, they both had professional-athlete fathers, Hand being the daughter of former major-league pitch Rich Hand. They clicked.
How could they not?
Follow us on Twitter, where you can ask questions and get instant updates.
Become a fan of the site on Facebook and get updates in your news stream.
Discuss this on our Message Board.
Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Seattle University and Columbia University, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.