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Former Rebel returns to Las Vegas as NBA agent

Updated August 16, 2021 - 10:46 am

Jordan Cornish didn’t fight the nostalgia that accompanied his business trip to Las Vegas. Instead, he relished it from his seat in the Thomas &Mack Center. Section 105, EE. A prime location to watch the Sacramento Kings play the Charlotte Hornets in the Vegas Summer League.

“We used to put 15,000 in here,” said Cornish, hearkening back to when he played basketball at UNLV.

That was more than five years ago. But rest assured, it felt so good to be back.

Cornish returned to Thomas &Mack Center last week for the first time since he left the program. Though this time it wasn’t as a basketball player, but as an agent with Beyond Athlete Management, an agency based in Chicago for which he’s worked nearly two years.

The 24-year-old played two years for the Rebels before concluding his college career in 2019 at Tulane. He could have pursued a professional playing career abroad but opted to pivot toward the business of basketball — earning his certification in February through the National Basketball Players Association.

He has the freedom to negotiate contracts and helps manage the day-to-day dealings of the firm’s clients. But his value to the agency can’t be quantified through numbers or dollar signs.

“He can relate to us. He’s been in our position,” said Houston Rockets wing Jae’Sean Tate, who is represented by Beyond Athlete Management and works closely with Cornish.

”He knows what we’re going through. He knows what we like. He knows how we feel in certain situations because he’s been there. … That’s just something that can’t really be taught. That’s something that you naturally learn and experience.”

A ballplayer

Cornish is a networking natural, armed with a sociable, convivial demeanor that he developed in his beloved hometown of New Orleans as he developed his basketball skills. He was a consensus four-star prospect, prompting recruitment by and relationships with some of the most influential college coaches in the country that he maintains to this day.

He first signed with Tennessee, but was released from his national letter of intent when then-coach Cuonzo Martin accepted the head coaching position at California. Former UNLV coach Dave Rice sought to recruit Cornish when his recruitment reopened and was impressed by his maturity during their initial telephone conversation.

“He talked about preparing himself for his future after basketball,” Rice recalled. “He knew that basketball was something that he loved to play. That it would take him a long way and that he could use basketball to branch into other things and have a great life.”

Cornish had befriended former UNLV and NBA wing Rashad Vaughn through the club basketball scene and was drawn to the glamour and pace of Las Vegas. He signed with the Rebels and played two years at UNLV on teams that featured five NBA players — giving him an early foray into the business of basketball.

Rice’s dismissal during the 2015-16 season triggered his transfer back to Tulane, where he played two additional seasons after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign.

The Green Wave didn’t have the same fan base or atmosphere as UNLV, giving Cornish a “reality check” as he finished his degree in public relations. He started 70 games during his college career and participated in the pre-draft process in 2019, but realized that October that he was ready to retire.

A businessman

One of Cornish’s first phone calls upon his retirement as a player was to Daniel Poneman, an NBA agent who co-founded Beyond Athlete Management in 2018. The two shared a mutual friend in Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis and had previously met at a party hosted by a trainer who worked with Cornish and Davis in New Orleans.

“I thought he was going to ask me to represent him,” Poneman said. “Instead of asking me to represent him, he said ‘I’m done playing basketball. I want to learn how to be an agent. Will you teach me?’ He just was straight up with it.”

A week later, Cornish was with Poneman in Chicago, attending meetings with representatives from Nike — affirming that he made the right decision.

Cornish credited Poneman for helping him learn the nuances of the industry, but Poneman said Cornish is a natural leader who had the skills and contacts to make a seamless transition.

“He has such deep roots in the game from having played it,” Poneman said. “People really trust him, and when you have that base, that’s the hard part. Learning how to negotiate a contract is the easy part.”

Cornish was hired by Beyond Athlete Management in November of 2019 and spent his first 13 months at the firm scouting talent and managing player relations. His pre-existing friendships with his former UNLV teammates helped him develop comprehensive networks of connections within the NBA.

All the while, he studied for the NBPA’s annual certification exam, using downtime during the COVID-19 pandemic to learn the ins and outs of the league’s salary structure and its collective bargaining agreement.

He passed the exam in February and recruited his first class of clients ahead of the 2021 NBA draft.

“In due time, he’s going to be a person that’s going to be well respected,” said Sacramento Kings guard Matt Coleman, whom Cornish represents. “If he has his hunger and drive and continues to be who he is, then everything else is going to work out for him perfectly.”

So Cornish returned this year to the Thomas &Mack Center for the first time since 2016. For the Summer League, the association’s premier offseason networking event.

He’s not a basketball player anymore.

Fine by him.

“It’s not just NBA or bust,” said Cornish, who resides in Houston. “You can use this game to get into so many different doors. You can make the same amount of money. You can live the same lifestyle. You can do this even if you don’t make the NBA.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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