Milligan hooks Longhorns' Cornett in basketball, golf

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   MOUNTAIN CITY--The opportunity to play at least two sports and the chance to be in a good atmosphere meant that Milligan College was the place Matt Cornett thought he needed to be for four years.
   The three-sport standout from Johnson County High School signed a letter of intent to play both basketball and golf for the Buffaloes on Thursday afternoon.
   There's a chance that Cornett, who finished third in the state in the high jump as a junior, may also do some track and field for Milligan. That would make him a rare three-sport collegiate athlete.
   "I wanted to play both basketball and golf," Cornett said. "I don't know how much each sport will take away from each other. Hopefully, I'll excel in golf. The opportunities are limited on the basketball team right now. Hopefully, I'll get the opportunity to excel."
   Cornett was one of the best golfers around this year, but received a lot of his accolades for his accomplishments on the basketball court.
   He was a two-time first-team selection to the Elizabethton Star's All-Carter/Johnson basketball team, a Tennessee Blue Chip All-Star, an honorable mention All-State selection, the Watauga Conference scoring champion for the 2001-2002 season, an All-District and All-Regional selection this year, and was named the Region 1-AA Tournament MVP in March by The Tomahawk.
   Cornett's college stock might not have been as high as he would have liked due to not playing his natural position in high school. Instead of playing the two or the three, Cornett played the four out of necessity.
   But Johnson County head boys basketball coach Austin Atwood knew that this great athlete with solid basketball skills was not going to be passed up.
   "We had him in the wrong position, but he didn't care a bit to go in the post," Atwood said. "Anybody that knew anything about basketball would take him.
   "He's a great athlete. As far as I know, he's the first Johnson County player to sign for basketball since Ryan Arnold. (Arnold played at Virginia Intermont in the late 1990's.) Milligan didn't go wrong getting him."
   Though Cornett will most likely redshirt his first year in basketball, Milligan basketball and golf coach Tony Wallingford feels he will eventually be an asset to the basketball team and will help right away in golf.
   "Matt is going to be counted on right away in golf," Wallingford said. "We think he can take his golf game to another level. In basketball, we're going to give him a year to adjust his skills, but we're happy to have him. He's an outstanding athlete, a good student, a good person, and a good fit for our program."
   Cornett is also going to get one of the top educations around. He should be ready for it, as he sports a 3.7 G.P.A.
   Cornett has won the Presidential Academic Excellence Award twice, is in the National Honor Society, and was recently named WJHL Scholar Athlete of the Week.
   "I believe he's won the academic award all four years," Johnson County golf coach Steve Arnold said about the award he gives out to the golfer who has the highest G.P.A. on the team. "He's led by example on the golf course and in the classroom."
   Said Cornett: "Some people don't realize that athletes spend time in the classroom, and put in the effort to make good grades as well."
   Johnson County principal Betty Brown also sees how hard Cornett has worked on the court and in the classroom for four years.
   "I'm very excited about Matt Cornett signing to play at Milligan College," Brown said. "He has excelled in the classroom, as well as excelling in athletics. JCHS is proud of Matt, and we know he will be an asset to Milligan's program."
   The chance to get a quality education was a big reason in Cornett's decision to come to Milligan, as well as the opportunity to be around fellow Christians.
   "It was a good place to get a valuable education," Cornett said. "I think Milligan will be a better atmosphere and a good Christian environment."
   One thing that really attracted Wallingford to sign Cornett was his dedication to being the best he could be. Wallingford realizes just how hard Cornett works, particularly in the weight room.
   "He's very dedicated in the weight room," Wallingford said. "We're getting a guy who is dedicated and who is a hard worker."
   Looking back on his stellar high school career, Cornett feels this year has stung a little bit. Cornett could have easily made the state in golf, basketball and track with just one or two more breaks.
   But Cornett realizes he has accomplished a lot, and can also smile.
   "I'm a little disappointed in my senior year," he said. "I'm missed the state in golf by one shot, in basketball by one game, and in track by one jump. But we did some great things in basketball. Going to substate games weren't expected here. We did something that hadn't been done in 20 years. Under the circumstances, I feel like I had a pretty good track career as well."
   Cornett going down the road to Carter County means that his parents, Aaron and Rita Cornett, will continue to have opportunities to watch their son play sports. According to Matt, that played a big role in his decision to come to Milligan.
   "It's close, so my parents can come watch," Cornett said. "I prayed that God would lead me in the right direction. It was the best offer and the best place for me."
   With Cornett now ready to start a new chapter in his life, he will go down as one of the best athletes ever to play sports at Johnson County High School.
   And a person that his former golf coach will never forget.
   "You don't have room in the paper to write down all the ways he's going to be missed," Arnold said.