Former Butler basketball star Joel Cornette dies in Chicago at 35

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FILE - In this March 23, 2003, file photo, Butler foward Joel Cornette, center, goes in to the stands to join his father, Joel Sr., right, and mother, Christi, after his NCAA East Regional second-round game against Louisville in Birmingham, Ala. Joel Cornette, who helped Butler make the transition from a traditional mid-major program into a surprising power in college basketball, died Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016, in a Chicago apartment. He was 35. (AP Photo/Frank Couch, FIle) ORG XMIT: NY174

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. Results from an autopsy were expected later Tuesday.

“We spoke with the Cornette family, who has confirmed that their beloved son and brother, Joel, passed away early this morning due to natural causes,” Butler said in a release. “They are shocked and devastated by this news.”

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 #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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