Luke Kornet steps into updated role as team’s most experienced player

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Luke Kornet steps into updated role as team’s most experienced player

Josh Hamburger

During the 2015 season, Vanderbilt enjoyed a roster that included three veteran players of at least seven feet: Damian Jones, Josh Henderson and Luke Kornet. But this upcoming season presents a new problem: Jones left for the draft in the first round and Henderson’s eligibility ran out, leaving Kornet as the team’s lone experienced big man.

That leaves some questions at center, mainly focused around redshirt freshman Djery Baptiste. After sitting out last year to become more accustomed to the sport at this level, the Haitian native appears destined for a significant role on the court. But it’s currently unknown how much of a role that may be or how ready he is, given his lack of collegiate playing time.

“I think they’ll be together some, and then obviously at some point (just) one of them on the court,” head coach Bryce Drew said about Kornet and Baptiste.

Luke Kornet through the years

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Regardless of how much playing time Baptiste gets, there will be plenty of times with just one big man, leading to a height mismatch that wasn’t present in the past few years. There isn’t anybody else who will be able to fill in the same type of role, save freshman forward Clevon Brown, who stands at 6’8”. That means Kornet could be the tallest Commodore on the court by five inches at any given time and will be forced to stay inside more than in the past.

“A lot of times we have four perimeter guys in so it’s definitely a little more necessary to stay around the goal, but I still have the freedom to go outside and shoot or really just make decisions,” Kornet said.

One concern though that most Vanderbilt fans are aware of is foul trouble, which plagued Jones throughout much of last season. Even with two other seven footers on the team, Jones’ limited playing time in many games hurt the overall production. He was arguably the team’s most important player, much like Kornet will be this season. Without much backup though, Kornet (and Baptiste) will need to be extremely careful, something that Coach Drew is keenly aware of.

“Obviously it’ll be a big concern to keep people out of foul trouble,” Drew said. “We’ll try to tweak things on defense or try to manage the time and keep those guys on the court.”

But Kornet isn’t just the experienced big man on the team. He’s also the team’s most seasoned player, heading into his fourth season for the Commodores. Guard Nolan Cressler is also a senior but has only played one year at Vanderbilt after transferring from Cornell following his sophomore year. Kornet’s age gives him a new role amongst his teammates: mentor. And with that, he’s been helping out some younger players get adjusted.

“I think Clevon (Brown) especially, just helping him a little more because he’s also a big and there’s a lot more stuff that I can help with and give him advice,” Kornet said.

Luke Kornet Minutes per Game

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Kornet noted that he received guidance from some former teammates as he began his college career and as he adjusted to more of an interior role. He pointed out that former forward Rod Odom (2010-2014) and Henderson (2011-2016) played especially important roles in his development as a player and ultimately a more physical big man.

“Especially later on with Josh, dealing sometimes with being hurt and stuff like that,” Kornet said. “I mean Rod, more so since he’s left because he comes back in the summer and talking with him and being someone to relate to in terms of basketball and what we want to do with the basketball.”

Although Kornet is transitioning more into a standard center role this year, he’s not too concerned about the added burden of work. His career-high playing time last year, primarily as an inside man, helped him adjust to the different skills needed with the more physical area around the hoop.

“I think last year was a big step in terms of rebounding and defending and getting my body ready for that stuff,” Kornet said. “So I think having that whole last year to look back on, knowing what works and what doesn’t, having confidence in that for sure definitely helps and in terms of just being around it so much, you recognize a lot of actions and things to look for.”

Although Kornet is new to Drew as a head coach like every other player on the team, Drew has already recognized what his tallest player brings to the team. He highlighted both his academic achievement as a computer science major (evident by his five academic awards) and his dynamic skill set as a seven footer with three-point shooting ability.   

“I think any coach in the country would be thrilled to have him (Luke) on the team,” Drew said.

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