A Kid at Heart
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One question jumped to the forefront of my brain when sitting across from Corey Brewer at the Green Mill restaurant in Willmar, Minnesota.
"Dude, do you really have a goat?"
Of course, this inquiry was generated from Brewer's twitter status in mid July that stated, "I'm at home and my pet goat keeps trying to go in the road."
Brewer smiled and quickly replied to my question, "Oh yeah."
The crew on the Wolves Caravan joined Brewer, J.B. Bickerstaff, and Ramon Sessions for a late night snack after traveling to Owatonna and then to Willmar on the first leg of a three-day tour across Minnesota in July.
With minimal room inside the RV and plenty of time to shoot the breeze, I could witness Brewer as the person -- not the basketball player. I discovered an appealing aspect to Brewer's personality.
He is real.
It's a simple statement but somewhat surprising, considering the perception of professional athletes in this day and age, justified or not. Brewer embraces his farm and family back in Portland, Tennessee with an unmistakable southern twang in the midst of suiting up for the Minnesota Timberwolves on the big stage of the NBA.
From Portland, Brewer traveled over 600 miles to attend the University of Florida where he achieved incredible success. The combination of future NBA stars Joakim Noah, Al Horford, and Brewer led to back-to-back national titles for the Gators. This memorable college squad stole a bit of the spotlight from a football program that historically garnered all the fanfare in Gainesville. The members of the team were roommates at Florida and remain close friends throughout their NBA travels. Brewer built relationships with his teammates, an unbreakable bond despite working in a tricky business that often constrains and blurs true friendship.
High expectations followed Brewer to the league, when Minnesota drafted him with the seventh overall pick in 2007. The Most Outstanding Player of the 2007 NCAA tournament is the first to admit that he struggled to adjust in his rookie season. A large group of first-year athletes in any sport explain the increase in speed from college to professional ball. For Brewer, the experience was completely opposite. The 6'9" athletic-freak could not slowdown after playing at a breakneck pace in college, which resulted in a somewhat disjointed rookie campaign.
"My rookie year, I was discouraged. It was bad. It was tough, I didn't know if I could play in that system," Brewer said last year.
He honestly assessed his 2007 season without playing the blame game or searching for excuses. Two years later, Brewer was back in a big way by effectively altering his in-game speed. In 2009-10, Brewer returned from a season-ending knee injury to post a career-high 13 points per game and 1.4 steals while shooting 34.6 percent behind the arc. He also launched over Derek Fisher and Robin Lopez for two of the best NBA dunks.
At one of the golf stops on the Caravan, I asked Brewer about his plans to posterize defenders this upcoming season. The fourth-year pro sheepishly answered, "I can't call anybody out but trust me, I'm gonna dunk on a few." Again, the mixture of humility and confidence is unique.
During the three basketball clinics on the Caravan, Brewer connected with the children sans camera or major media coverage. His ability to shed all the lure of his fame and genuinely offer guidance to the kids in attendance was admirable. "Yeah, I like being around the kids. I feel like I'm still a big kid," Brewer proudly stated with his trademark smile.
This theme continued throughout the summer as Brewer hosted camps in Portland and Gainesville to give back to the communities that he once called home. The motivation for the camps was twofold with a chance to teach basketball and a way to provide funds for diabetes patient programs, a disease that has directly affected Brewer's family.
The busy offseason for Brewer included a character building trip to Singapore as part of the Basketball Without Borders. According to the official release, the four-day camp united the top 50 young basketball players from 22 countries across Asia to promote basketball and encourage social change in the areas of education, health, and wellness.
"It was good for me because that was first time in Asia. It was different but a lot of fun. I got to go over there with Al Horford, which is one of my best friends, Trevor Ariza, Francisco Garcia, Taj Gibson. So, it was just good all-around, I was able to see new things, visit different places, and eat some good Asian food," Brewer said.
From Willmar to Portland to Singapore and back to Minneapolis for training camp in a couple of weeks, Brewer exudes a likeable down to earth personality. The same guy who sported a plaid tie, vest, and hat at the ESPY Awards in Los Angeles is the same guy who brags about his pet goat back on the farm.
And, yes, they are both real.
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