July 12, 2001
From time to time villanova.com brings you stories of former Wildcat standouts and where they are today. This week we visit with former men's basketball player Chuck Kornegay, Class of 1997.
It was the summer of 1998 and Chuck Kornegay was constantly on the lookout for blank videotapes. Fresh from his first professional season in Australia, the power forward and member of two Wildcat Big East championship teams (1995 and '97), Kornegay needed something to gain a foothold in the professional ranks.
"I was grabbing every tape I could and we were putting my games on there," says Kornegay, a 1997 Villanova graduate. "You really had to sell yourself if you wanted to get into the European leagues and I felt that would be a good spot for me. Every tape I could get my hands on, I sent to my agent and he sent them to the teams in Europe.
"European teams don't usually take chances on guys who had played at the level I was at in Australia. But, fortunately, a team in Seville liked me and signed me."
Thus, began a three-year run in the ranks of professional basketball in Spain. Today Kornegay, now 27, is established as one of the leading rebounders in that country. He and his agent are presently sifting through offers from professional clubs in Italy, Greece, and Spain as he looks ahead to the 2001-2002 season.
"I feel like I have improved a lot," said Kornegay, who averaged 7.1 points and 6.1 rebounds an outing as a senior in 1996-97.
For the first 18 years of his life, Chuck Kornegay was content in his native North Carolina. As a senior at Southern Wayne High School in Raleigh he was one of the more coveted recruits in the nation, ultimately signing with nearby North Carolina State University. But Kornegay spent only one semester at the school - he averaged 8.8 ppg in seven games there - before electing to transfer. He chose Villanova and soon found himself in unfamiliar surroundings.
"Man, it was cold," recalls Kornegay of his first winter on campus in January 1994. The 6-9, 235-pound native of Dudley, N.C. practiced with the Wildcats during the latter part of the 1993-94 campaign and the early stages of '94-95 per NCAA transfer rules. He became eligible, ultimately playing 26 games and starting 21. He soon became the power forward complement to center Jason Lawson and fit nicely in a cast that included All-American guard Kerry Kittles, Alvin Williams and Eric Eberz. That group led the 'Cats to a remarkable second half that was capped by a Big East Tournament title in 1995.
"Nobody particularly likes the way it ended," says Kornegay of the campaign that abruptly closed with a first round overtime loss to Old Dominion, "but we had some great wins and played so well together. In the Big East Tournament that year, we just wiped everyone out."
Kornegay remained an integral part of the 'Cats for the next two seasons. Villanova rose to its highest national ranking ever (No. 2) during the 1995-96 campaign and grabbed another Big East title in his senior year of '97. Along the way he was a steady rebounder and defender who did battle with the likes of Syracuse's John Wallace on the interior.
"My role was to play defense and rebound, so that's what I concentrated on," he states.
During his three years of on-court action on the Main Line, the 'Cats were 70-23 (.753).
"We won a lot and were pretty successful," Kornegay states. "I made some great friends and played with some great teammates. Being up here, I got a whole different perspective on basketball after having grown up around the ACC. The Big East was more fast-paced to me."
The adjustment Kornegay made from North Carolina to Villanova, however, served him well when it came time to pursue a professional basketball career. Where other Americans have struggled in uncomfortable surroundings, the easygoing Kornegay adapted without much fuss.
"I had never been out of North Carolina for more than two weeks before I came up here," explains Kornegay. "When you come up here, it's totally different from the south, weather-wise, culture-wise, different type people. It was good for me all around. It showed me I could adapt to different type of people and surroundings.
"When I went overseas I was used to being away from home. I wasn't straight out of the southeast. If I had been that would have been quite a shock."
Following his release from the NBA's Washington Wizards, Kornegay arrived in Australia in January of 1998. He felt instantly at home. The weather was warm, the natives friendly and the language of choice is English. Yet if he hoped to make a larger financial dent he realized that would have to happen in Europe.
Thus, he began operation highlight reel.
He had averaged 19 points and 14 rebounds a game during his tour in Australia but he was ready for something more challenging.
"I knew I was playing pretty well but no one else knew it," Kornegay states. "So I boxed up as many of those tapes as I could and sent them to my agent. He sent them anywhere he could. The team that I signed with felt like it was really taking a chance on me."
At the time, teams in Spain were permitted to have three Americans on the roster. It is now two. But that additional spot allowed the club in Seville to gamble.
Says Kornegay: "I was kind of the experimental case."
As the third American, Kornegay was relegated to a supporting role. No matter how well he played he was used as a reserve. Although he was third on the team in scoring and second in rebounding, he fell victim to a pecking order system that reserved the foreign player spoils for his other two American teammates.
"I played well but my minutes were limited," he says. "They had a certain amount of money invested in me and a certain amount invested in others. If they started me, it might have looked funny."
Kornegay's team reached the championship game, though, and that, in tandem with his strong performance earned him a contract with a more prestigious squad located outside of Madrid. Kornegay flourished, averaging 13 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. The latter figure placed him second in his league in that category.
Last season, 2000-01, Kornegay upped his scoring average to 14 ppg and collected 9 rpg.
"Right now," he says, "I feel like I have built up a pretty good name over there. That's what I wanted to do before I ever came back to the United States and started thinking about the NBA or any other kind of league."
The original contract Kornegay signed in 1999 binds him to his current team for two more seasons. Yet his reputation has grown to the point that a handful of clubs in Europe have expressed an interest in buying out the remainder of the pact to acquire his rights.
"I'm not real sure where I am going to be next season," he says. "I'd prefer Spain and there are four clubs interested in me there, plus one in Italy and one in Greece."
The good news is that he knows he will be gainfully employed.
As for a return to this country, namely the NBA, Kornegay says he remains interested.
"Not for financial reasons," he explains. "I've been fortunate to do well overseas. But more so my family could see me play and for the opportunity than anything else."
If that never materializes, Kornegay is quite content in Europe.
"I haven't learned Spanish as well as I probably should have," he says with a laugh. "I know enough to order food and get by. And in basketball a lot of guys speak English. Even some of the Spanish players know how to say things like 'What's Up'?"
The difference of time zones and his distant port of call makes contact with former coaches and teammates difficult. However, there are moments.
"I see guys who I played with all the time," Kornegay states. "I played against James Bryson twice. Jon Haynes played in my league last year and he used to come stay with me when we would have a week off or something. Howard Brown played in Spain last year too. I didn't see him too much because he was in another league but I called him all the time to see if he was adjusting all right."
In the summer Kornegay returns to a home he owns in North Carolina and stays in shape by playing pickup basketball with the likes of Jerry Stackhouse and Vince Carter in the Research Triangle area. The professional game in Europe does not afford an American the luxury of focusing merely on defense and glasswork. Kornegay now boasts a much-more complete game than he did in '97.
"My brother watches me and can't believe how much I've added," he states.
At heart, though, Kornegay appears much as he did during his stint on the Main Line: easygoing and adaptable, two traits that serve any world traveler well.