After 26 years as a college basketball coach, Doug Cornelius contemplated retirement.
When the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown Yuba College and his men’s basketball team in what would have been his 20th season as head coach, Coach Corn as he’s known, got an early taste of the retirement life while stuck at home for a year. With half of his house remodeled and not a weed in his yard, Corn is rejuvenated and excited to return to the basketball court and his team.
“It was fun for about three weeks,” Corn said about the extra time at home. “It showed me I wasn’t ready to get out.”
When Yuba College first felt the effects of the pandemic, the 49ers had just finished their season and three days later were told they couldn’t go back to school. There wasn’t closure with the team, no post-season meeting, not even an awards banquet to celebrate the five sophomores who moved on to play on scholarship at universities.
There weren’t spring workouts or even summer workouts when the team usually gets together in August to start preseason conditioning.
The team was able to get together for two weeks in early November and then nothing until just before spring break.
“We can finally get the boys back together after a full year of not being able to do much,” Corn said.
The season that wasn’t was especially disappointing for Konner Baroni. The 6-foot-8 forward was excited to return after suffering an injury less than halfway through his first season in 2019. Thankfully for Baroni, he had not played enough games to lose his year of eligibility and got his year back.
But while what would have been his freshman year didn’t happen, Baroni didn’t sit idle. He continued to lift and workout, playing basketball at parks with his little brother. Last year Baroni was 180 pounds. This season he’s 215, training five days a week with a basketball trainer and continuing to lift.
Baroni would like to continue to play ball at a university, and is looking forward to the next season that can hopefully get him there. He said he chose Yuba as his next step because he knew Corn was one of the best coaches in all of California, especially at the junior college level.
“He’s one of those coaches who lets you play without a lot a lot of background noise,” Baroni said. “All of his criticism is super constructive and builds you for the next level.”
If Baroni moves on to a four-year school, he joins a long list of Corn products who found success after Yuba. More than 40 players have made it to Division I schools and more than 100 players played at various levels, all on full scholarships. Also on his long list of student success stories is Festus Ezeli, who went on to become an NBA champion with the Golden State Warriors.
Corn’s impressive accolades include 14 championships at Yuba, and he’s been part of 17 championships overall in his 25 years of coaching.
Corn got his coaching start at American River College after working in the Sacramento Kings organization. He liked the smaller school and community of Yuba and viewed his first head coaching position there as a challenge. He started his Yuba coaching career late in the summer and didn’t have a chance to recruit. He went 11-19 his first season.
“I was miserable,” Corn said. “My wife (academic athletic counselor at Sacramento City College) said ‘You need to go out and build your program.’ I went to like 75 high school games and practices in between my games and practices.”
His first year would be his only losing season at Yuba. He won the conference championship his second year and went to the Elite 8 his third year.
“His gift is recruiting,” said former player Brett Ost. “He puts in the work.”
Yuba has become a destination for basketball student athletes because of its winning ways and because the program is known for sending athletes to the next level on scholarship.
“We didn’t have much of a program in the late 90s,” said Yuba College Athletic Director Erick Burns. “He completely flipped the basketball program and brought life to the entire athletic department, with a winning attitude of it can be done here and a relentless work ethic. The community comes out and supports the games. It’s brought the community closer to the college.”
Corn understands his time is limited with his players, with some only at Yuba for a year before they move on. He and his longtime assistant, Ken Griffin, make sure to make it fun so players enjoy their experience.
Ost (2002-2005) was Corn’s first recruit at Yuba, first all-state player and first D-I player. Ost wasn’t interested in going to a junior college. Valedictorian of his high school, he had offers to go to great schools with the possibility of walking on to basketball programs. There was just one problem: Ost was small for basketball.
He ultimately chose Yuba.
“I had two years to grow my body and get in the weight room,” Ost said. “With Coach Corn, it was, ‘Go out and be you.’ He gave us the freedom to be the best versions of ourselves on the court.”
Ost went on to play on scholarship at UC Riverside, and now owns a basketball training company with Yuba alum and fellow 2019 Yuba College Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, Kenny Smith.
Ost and his family are still very much part of the Yuba community, attending basketball games when schedules allow.
Being around the game and the team is what keeps Corn young. And when the time does come for him to hand over the coaching reigns to someone else, Corn won’t be far removed from the gym. As a full-time instructor at the college as well, he teaches a mix of kinesiology, fitness, and health classes in the classroom and online.
“It’s a dream job,” Corn said. “I get to wear shorts and a T-shirt to school. I love teaching my classes.”
Corn enjoys teaching and coaching at the community college level because he sees the older students trying to re-enter the workforce or switching careers, as well as the students out of high school trying to grind it out and go on to university. If that student is on his team, Corn will do all he can to help them advance to the next level.
“I love helping these kids find scholarships,” he said. “They’re part of my family. It’s just an awesome job.”
For more information about the Yuba men’s basketball program, visit https://yc.yccd.edu/athletics/sports/mens-basketball/.