ALL THE GLORY: Lady Red Devils' Chyna Cornwell's rise to NCBCA Women's Player of the Year

Lady Red Devils' senior center Chyna Cornwell (54) running the fastbreak in the 2A state playoff contest at East Burke on March 3, 2020. (File photo by Michelle Thompson)Lady Red Devils' senior center Chyna Cornwell (54) double-teamed by Shelby guards and sisters Ally and Kate Hollifield in the third-round of the 2A state playoffs on February 29, 2020. (File photo by Brian Hendrix)Lady Red Devils' Chyna Cornwell (54) shares an embrace with head coach Sylvia White following the state playoff victory over Shelby on Feb. 29. (File photo by Michelle Thompson)Lady Red Devils' Chyna Cornwell attempting to overcome the double-team by East Rutherford on February 25, 2020. (File photo by Michelle Thompson)Lady Red Devils' senior Chyna Cornwell (54) and junior forward Grace Loftin (33) sharing the block on Maiden's Maggie Andrews (14) on January 17, 2020. (File photo by Brian Hendrix)Lady Red Devils' senior center Chyna Cornwell posing with her 2,000 career point game-ball on January 14, 2020. (File photo by Michelle Thompson)
Marcus Smith
Sports Editor

Newton-Conover High School senior Chyna Cornwell has achieved accolade after accolade in her illustrious basketball career, but recently she garnered the highest one imaginable in high school basketball: North Carolina Basketball Coaches Association Player of the Year.

Cornwell – the dominant 6'3” center and inside force for the Lady Red Devils – guided her squad this season to its first North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2A state championship appearance since 1992. Although this game has yet to be played due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she has proven without a shadow of a doubt that she is a 'once in a generation type player.'

Cornwell posted up 26.2 points, 16.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game this season. Even though statistically she dipped from a season ago – when she averaged 28.3 points, 20.5 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game – she has grown as a player in different facets including at the charity stripe, as well as improving her ball-handling and knowing when to dish the ball to a teammate.

For the second consecutive season, she would also be named the NCBCA District 10 Player of the Year, along with being named to its All-State first-team once again. Cornwell would also crack the 2,000 career point and 2,000 career rebound threshold this season – a feat only a select amount have attained in their careers.

The accomplishments don't stop there as Cornwell has been named the All-South Fork 2A Conference Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons, as well as conference tournament Most Valuable Player twice. Cornwell is also a record-breaker as she broke the Dick's Sporting Goods Classic record for most points in the tournament during the 2018-19 season as she obtained 81 points.

The individual achievements mean a great deal to Cornwell, but to her, it's not the most important thing. She's a team-player and has stayed humble throughout her journey that began in 7th grade.

Back in middle school, Cornwell was a young kid who didn't give competitive basketball a thought. However, when she finally picked up the ball as a 12 or 13-year-old, she couldn't put it down.

From her time on the AAU travel-ball circuit with current teammates Aaliah Walton Jahlea Peters to achieving the greatest heights in high school, Cornwell has enjoyed the process.

“My main force is God staying grounded in his word, and then my parents who has supported and sacrificed their lives for me and took me all over the United States to pursue my dream of playing basketball,” said Cornwell. “My family has set great examples to me and my sister of being hard-workers, so I basically was raised around always having a good work ethic and never being satisfied. (I'm) not done yet.

“My motivation came mainly from my grandmother, who has suffered from two strokes. I am one of her main caretakers. I spend a lot of time with her off the court; she used to come to my games but now she's not able to, (so) it pushes me harder to get better and to strive for greatness to make her proud.”

Cornwell said her emotions when she heard the news of being award the NCBCA Women's Player of the Year were indescribable.

“I was very emotional when I received this honor and it humbled me so much,” she said. “God is just so good, and I can't thank him enough for just giving me the ability and talent to continue to play this (game) that I love and appreciate.”

Lady Red Devils' head varsity basketball coach Sylvia White has often praised Cornwell's level of play these last two seasons she has been able to coach her. Cornwell said it's an honor to receive such praise from an awesome coach like Coach White.

“It's (also) exciting to know that I'm playing under a coach who has won a state championship (at Newton-Conover) in the past,” she said. “Some lessons she has taught me individually as a player was to execute each play, because every play is written to score a basket off of, (as well as) off the court (to) have good character and represent being a Lady Red Devil.”

She said she also has enjoyed her time with her teammates, especially Peters, Walton and junior forward Grace Loftin – who Cornwell has played with at Newton-Conover the last few years.

“My fondest memories with them would be how we traveled with the basketball, take unnecessary shots and how we (would) laugh later at our mistakes when we watch film as a team,” said Cornwell. “But most of all, how we built a bond, developed our chemistry to help us take us far this season. I am truly thankful for all my teammates because each and every one have a huge role on the team.”

As far as in-game performance is concerned, Cornwell said she thinks she's improved her passing ability by setting up teammates for better shots around the rim – which was definitely true for the one-two punch between her and Loftin this season.

She also improved her shooting percentage to nearly 75 percent from the field this year and she feels this has to do with being more sufficient all-around, as well as running the floor better on the offensive and defensive ends.

“When I get to the collegiate level, I need to work on my jumpshot, getting comfortable shooting the 3-pointer, but mostly focusing on playing different positions on the next level,” said Cornwell – the Rutgers basketball commit.

Cornwell said that she's so excited and blessed to have the opportunity to play at Rutgers this Fall under such a legendary coach like C. Vivian Stringer. She described it as an “opportunity of a lifetime.

“I am eager to get there to develop as a better basketball player and developed as a young woman off the court,” she said.

In terms of how she prepares for a game, Cornwell said that she takes to herself by listening to music to get herself mentally ready for the contest. She said she also drinks an entire bottle of red fruit punch flavored Gatorade before every game. Cornwell stays motivated, as well, because her mom sends her an inspirational quote before she even steps on the court to keep her pumped.

Cornwell also has some parting words of advice for the ladies following after her in playing basketball.

“Stay(ing) disciplined will always take you far in sports but in life, as well,” she said. “Having the work ethic, being willing to sacrifice and do anything to get where you want to be (is important). Staying focused in school, being (the) top of your class is very important and will always be the ticket to get you to the next level.”