Former Butler basketball star Joel Cornette dies at age 35

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Joel Cornette let everyone see his passion every
day.

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 Cornette was found dead in a Chicago
apartment, the Cook County medical examiner’s office said. The
office said after an autopsy that the cause and manner of death
were pending further studies.

Butler issued a news release saying the Cornette family ”has
confirmed that their beloved son and brother, Joel, passed away
early this morning …” and stating they believe he died of
natural causes.

”They are shocked and devastated by this news,” the release said.

For the Bulldogs, it is yet another sad chapter in what has 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
in 2003 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.

Two days later, Cornette and two other seniors found themselves
selling tickets to their own game in the fieldhouse lobby.

It was that kind of attitude that won over fans, teammates and
eventually everyone else.

”Joel was more than just an agent to me,” former Wisconsin star
and current NBA player Sam Dekker wrote on Twitter. ”He was an
awesome man and unreal friend.”

After graduating in 2003, Cornette returned to the program as
director of basketball operations in 2006-07. The next year, he
followed coach Todd 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.

”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.

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