Corey Douglas, Culture Commander...
To get to know Corey Douglas, talk to the people who know him. They all have a story. Every single one of them, and that's the thing about Douglas. There isn't one story that defines him. People in his orbit all have their own "there was the time" moments when it comes to VCUs senior center.
There was the time Mike Rhoades had no ride for his son Logan to get to an AAU game. Rhoades was on the road recruiting, and his wife Jodie was shuttling the other two Rhoades children to-and-from their games.
Rhoades needed someone he could trust and he called on Douglas.
There was the time two summers ago, when Fork Union basketball coach Matt Donohue was running a camp. He asked Douglas and KeShawn Curry to return to FUMA to speak to the roughly 150 kids.
Donohue wanted Douglas and Curry to spend an hour talking to the kids, the big shot college kids relating experiences. Douglas did that. Then stayed for dinner. Hung out with the kids. Played in counselor games and participated in a dunk contest.
There was the time assistant coach JD Byers was recruiting Douglas. Fork Union was playing the North Carolina JV team in the DeanDome. On one possession Douglas hedged a ball screen, returned, showed on a stagger screen, guarded in the post, and then slid to the baseline and drew a charge on a drive.
There was the time a teammate needed a TV mounted, and the time another teammate needed a toilet unclogged. Douglas was on the scene, taking care of business.
Stories of strength, leadership, compassion, and selflessness. They all have a story.
And there was the time Nava Lee Douglas, Corey's 12-year old brother, was diagnosed with pineoblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. It was 2016, Douglas' freshman year at Rice.
It was doubly tough for Natasha Douglas, Corey's mom. She lost her father in January of that year, and now was dealing with the uncertainty of childhood cancer, to her youngest son. And yet the family needed her.
It's a big ask, playing the role of support when you are grieving. Worse, life has this immutable reality in that it goes on. Those everyday demands, the t
hings we don't necessarily think about but do, require tending. People have jobs, meals need to be prepared, errands and laundry and homework and phone calls. Those certainties do not stop in a time of uncertainty.
Natasha was a rock, but even rocks are impacted by the wind and the rain.
"It was one of things where you ask 'what do I do? How do you tell a 12-year old he has cancer?'” she says.
She needed help, as did Corey Douglas, Sr. Their oldest son was right there. He was given leave from the Rice team by his coaching staff—mostly the same coaching staff he has right now—to help tend to those family matters. To provide comfort and strength.
"It was the way my mom and dad have raised me," says Douglas. "They want me to be more independent but also to take care of my brothers. If my parents were at work I made sure homework got done, clothes were ready for school. Just kind of running things."
Natasha Douglas remembers. “Corey was the oldest and he just wanted to take it all away. Take the pain. Everybody wanted to fix it, nobody more than Corey. It was pretty rough but Corey was there.”
JD Byers saw it. Saw it every day.
"You could see the care for his brother on his face during that time. He never let up with basketball, but you could sense the anxiousness when the family was waiting for results," recalls Byers. "You could sense his hope, hope for a successful treatment. He doesn't talk much but you could sense at each marker the excitement about the positive news. It's a testament to Corey, how strong-willed and strong mentally he is that he helped his family. You could see that care in his eyes every single day."
Both Corey and Natasha Douglas are thankful for Byers, MIke Rhoades, and the entire coaching staff. They sent videos to Nava, called him, tried to lift his spirits.
"We wanted him to know he was on the team," says Byers.
"You don't have to be blood to be family," says Natasha Douglas.
Mike Rhoades frequently talks about the leadership capabilities of Corey Douglas. It isn't because he carted Logan Rhoades to an AAU game, and it began long before Douglas stepped foot in the BDC.
The highest honor, and highest-ranking cadet of the postgrads at Fork Union, is that of the Commander. There are five companies at the military school, each led by its commander. With roughly 400-500 cadets that puts each commander in charge of about 75 kids.
Corey Douglas was named one of five commanders, and the way Matt Donohue talks about Douglas is not unlike MIke Rhoades.
Everyone has a story about Corey Douglas, remember, and they are all the same.
"Corey was not vocal, he just did everything right," says Donohue. "Hat on straight, hair cut, shirt tucked in. The school could see it and they promoted him, but more importantly the other kids took note and gave him that respect. When he said 'make your bed' they stopped what they were doing and made their bed. Corey learned how impactful he could be as a leader. It's obviously developed in him."
It was a very big accomplishment for Douglas. "I try to do things the right way, follow rules but being in a military school for the first time I had to catch on," he says.
He caught on, and his leadership wasn't a badass leader, not in the traditional military way. Donohue recalls Douglas participating in a Big Brother program.
"Corey embraced that role as he does everything. It wasn't uncommon to see him and the middle school kid shooting hoops or walking across campus and Corey talking to the kid in his room," says Donohue. "He is a special person. When he decides to do something he's going to do it right. That kid will remember that experience. Corey is that guy."
Perhaps the reason Corey Douglas is so impactful, so motivational, so loved, is because he first and foremost sees himself in others. He makes everyone and everything around him relatable. It's a quiet, internal maturity rarely seen because so few have it, and even fewer share it.
"I really thought about myself in that position, having older guys who have been places you want to go," says Douglas. "Others did that for me and for them to come back and spend time with you and be relatable and personable, it had an impact on me. To see it up front makes that dream, whatever it is, more real. To be able to talk to them and share experience. I wanted to do that for those kids."
On the court at FUMA, Douglas averaged 13 points and 14 rebounds. The team took on Douglas' personality, playing hard and beating teams it had no business beating. Hargrave Military had not lost a game in two seasons. It featured current NC State teammates Braxton Beverly and DJ Funderburke.
In the game Douglas checked the 6-10 Funderburke, who is averaging 12/6 for the Wolfpack this season. Douglas had 11 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks. Funderburke did not make a field goal and logged one rebound. FUMA won the game, and ended up 26-7 and participated in the Prep School national tournament.
Basketball has always been a part of Corey Douglas' life.
His dad was a high school star and played at the JUCO level, winning a NJCAA championship. Even as an adult, the elder Corey Douglas played in men's leagues. The younger Douglas remembers.
"I'd go to his games and I always did stuff on the side. He made me a part of it," says Douglas who starts to laugh. "We played a lot of 1-on-1 when I was growing up. I ended up beating him one time in my sophomore year and I didn't want to play anymore."
The path from driveway battles to VCU began at Ballard High School in Louisville. Ballard is also the high school of former VCU guard Lionel Bacon.
"It's an amazing high school academically, as well as athletically," says Bacon. "It's about 20 minutes outside downtown Louisville." The school has produced college stars such as Alan Houston, Jeff Lamp, Lee Raker, and DeJuan Wheat.
"We're known for producing good players, but more importantly, good guys in general," says Bacon. Add Corey Douglas to the list.
Douglas prepped a year at Fork Union before being recruited to Rice by Byers. Military school is different. An 18-year old has to deal with things most 18-year olds do not. Matt Donohue checked up on Douglas and was assured character would not be an issue.
"His high school coach said Corey was the kind of guy he'd let his daughter marry. We talked on a Tuesday and he was here Friday to try out," recalls Donohue. "He shook my hand firm and looked me in the eye, but he was 6-7 and maybe 167 pounds soaking wet. He was as skinny as you can get, but then there was a play at the rim and saw his elbow at rim level. I knew I’d take him then. He always played so hard, and I only ever had to tell him things once."
Byers took it slowly with Douglas but it clicked.
"Matt called me and said 'I've got a guy for you," says Byers. "I went up there and saw Corey. He was flying around all over the court. I said 'Matt I love how he plays but I'm not sure.' Matt called again in December and said 'JD I'm telling you. You need to see him again.’
“So I changed my plans and drove up to see him. Honestly I was convinced in warmups. I've never seen a kid go that hard in warmups. He was so intense. I asked all the questions—does he have the body? Is he athletic enough? And Matt said 'I don’t care if he has any of that stuff you will win because of who he is. HIs impact goes well past what happens on the court."
Next stop: Houston, where after Douglas’ freshman season Rhoades was hired at VCU. Douglas knew he wanted to follow his coaches to VCU but also knew he didn’t want to sit out a year per transfer rules. So he spent that year at Tallahassee Community College before reuniting in Richmond.
Douglas says he looks to the people around him for inspiration, and to understand leadership. "Coach Rhoades, my parents, former coaches. Just look at them and see what they're doing," he says. "It's a continuous learning experience. You're never going to get to a point where you're a great leader. You won't have it figured out and there is always a next phase. I watch the people in my life and that helps."
Always watching, always a student, always aspiring to greater things. That’s Corey Douglas. He's earned his homeland security degree and is currently enrolled in the CSL. What's next? He doesn't know, conflicted by the extra year the NCAA is giving all student-athletes.
"If I have the opportunity to play professionally I want to be able to say that i did it," he says. "It doesn't have to be a long career. I'm in the CSL learning a lot about being a coach and what it is to be in athletics. I'm interested in it. But my degree is in homeland security. One of my goals is to become a US Air Marshall so I've been working on that to figure out what i need."
Not surprisingly he's talked to David Hinton.
That Douglas is both very interested in basketball and very interested in life outside the gym is no surprise. He is a part-time chef, cooking up meals for his teammates. Douglas grew up drawing and painting. Natasha says Corey's greatest joy came from his drawings and doodles that received high praise from teachers, not basketball exploits.
Corey laughs. "Yeah I still have a box full of my artwork from elementary school somewhere. I think I got the creative side from grandfather. He used to paint, was into photography. He dabbled in a lot of things and it rubbed off on me. I like to draw and dabble that way. Even around the apartment when something breaks I try to fix it. Even if i don't know I'll research to find out and try to fix it for them."
This is how his teammates have TVs hung, toilets fixed, and meals cooked.
"He will send me pics of what he cooks," says Natasha. "He likes to try different things, stuffed chicken, seafood."
A mom's pride begins bursting.
"He was an awesome child," she says. "Really. Never a bad child. He always wanted to help out. I taught him to be independent and being a role model came naturally for him. I can't call him a baby anymore but he's an awesome young man."
This is all who Corey Douglas is. A young man who is first and foremost about others and everyone’s success.
"I have a love for the game and I love my teammates," he says. "When I get close to somebody and we have a common goal I want us to achieve that goal. If it means I don't play as much as everyone else it's fine. I'll put my body on the line for the couple minutes. I'll give them all I've got."
There's the picture of Corey Douglas dunking on Temple. The one of him blocking a shot. Also the one of him jumping high off of the bench to celebrate a teammate’s play. It was all in his senior night video, a video that was not a necessity for him. Douglas told his mom he didn’t want anyone to make a fuss about him.
I want us to make a fuss about Corey Douglas. He is the humble warrior. The Commander.
Byers sums it up. "Do NOT ever count out Corey," he says. "He's so good on and off court. People talk about that word culture, and he is the standard for our culture at VCU.”
That's really the point of this. We talk about culture and VCU guys and young men we're proud of representing this program and this university. Guys that get after it on the floor. Corey Douglas is all that. He is the personification of the VCU culture.
Corey Douglas has one more reward in front of him. Nava Lee Douglas is cancer free, in remission having gone through radiation and chemotherapy treatments. He is a high school senior and will graduate this year.