Humble Beginnings Shaped Corey Brewer’s Work Ethic
The metal rim is permanently affixed to a plywood backboard, weathering two decades’ worth of stifling humidity and withstanding too many one-on-one games to track.
“It’s indestructible,” said Kings forward Corey Brewer, in his unmistakable Southern twang, and with his infectious smile ever-present.
“I have a brother, Jason, who’s five years older than me. We used to play all the time. We had the (adjustable) goal that would (go) up and down. I think we broke the first two or three, and my dad was like, ‘That was it.’ He put up this goal ... and it’s still standing today.”
The pride in his father’s craftsmanship and unbridled joy as Brewer reminisces about his childhood afternoons on the family farm in rural Portland, Tenn., a remote town 35 miles outside of Nashville, emanate in his voice.
Every morning, he’d spring out of bed before sunrise to accompany his father, Ellis – better known as Pee Wee – into the nearby tobacco fields, where his responsibilities ranged from harvesting crops to driving a tractor. On weekends, he'd tag along with Pee Wee, a full-time farmer and part-time trash collector, to help him haul waste around the neighborhood.
Once the chores were done and the house was spotless, Corey would shoot hoops with Jason in that makeshift dirt court in the backyard, into all hours of the night.
Lanky and long-armed, the 6-foot-9 wing emulated Scottie Pippen's versality as a multidimensional scoring threat and defensive stopper, climbing up to the No. 31 rank in the nation by Rivals.com in 2004.
The local standout could put the ball in the basket as effortlessly as any player in the country, but his effervescent energy attracted scouts from Division I programs. Few McDonald’s All-Americans were as willing to sacrifice offensive statistics to take on the toughest defensive assignments, but Brewer learned early that selfless mentality distinguished him from other prospects.
“I do whatever I can to help the team win,” he said. “Diving on the loose ball, taking a charge, making a shot.”
His discipline and work ethic translated into a full scholarship from the University of Florida, and after winning a title as a sophomore, Brewer, along with his teammates, debated forgoing the NBA for another year of NCAA eligibility.
For Brewer, a projected first-round pick, the decision was about more than basketball. By then, Pee Wee’s health was declining, and the financial windfall from an NBA contract could’ve afforded an early retirement and comfortable, if not lavish lifestyle. Except, the elder Brewers weren’t swayed by lucrative contracts or endorsement deals.
"(My father) told me to follow my heart," Brewer told the New York Daily News. "(My parents) told me I didn't have to go to the NBA for them. They didn't need the money that bad. They'd be able to get by.”
With his parents’ blessing, Brewer followed his heart and stayed on the Gainesville campus, and a year later, helped the Gators cut down the nets for the second straight season.
Named Final Four Most Outstanding Player, he was drafted No. 7 overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2007, and began to carve out a niche as a pesky, scrappy defender and team-first ‘glue guy.’
“When I got to the League, I had to realize that you have to do something to stick,” he said. “I love Bruce Bowen-type of guys. He was one of the guys I looked up to.”
During his first three seasons, Brewer endured heartbreak – a torn ACL cost him all but 15 games in 2008-09 – but returned with admirable resilience – a career-high 13.0 points without missing a game the next year.
But despite his determination and positive outlook, he struggled with his outside shot and night-to-night consistency. At age 24, his career was at a crossroads.
A mid-season trade sent him packing for New York, but the Knicks unexpectedly released him before he logged a single minute. Brewer wasn’t unemployed for long. He inked a deal with the Mavericks two days later, and remains grateful to the team’s veterans for teaching him the ins and out of the NBA and instilling the importance of team camaraderie.
“That year helped me a lot to stay in the League, actually,” he said. “Just being around those guys, learning to be an NBA player, learning how to work and just learning how to win. I was around Shawn Marion, Jason Terry, Dirk (Nowitzki) and Jason Kidd. Peja Stojakovic, too. That's Hall of Famers right there! All guys who did it for a long time, but knew how to win.”
Although Brewer played sparingly for a Dallas team that won a championship that season, the short stint was a turning point, and the "little things” he learned have stayed with him to this day.
In a League where the average career spans under five years, Brewer now has 12 seasons under his belt — with nine different organizations.
There’s a reason why he’s played in 47 Playoff games with four teams, including Denver, where he thrived as a Sixth Man on a 57-win squad in 2012-13, and Oklahoma City, where he filled in admirably as a starter for the injury-riddled Thunder in 2017-18.
His three-point shot has still come and gone, but he’s more than made up for any offensive shortcomings by using every inch of his 6-foot-9 wingspan and every ounce of his hustle and athleticism.
“(My role) just depends on the team (I’m) on,” he said, “and whatever the team needs.”
He’s locked down everyone from LeBron James to James Harden to Russell Westbrook, hounding each opponent into turnovers and forcing poor shots.
“You just have to go out there and try to take something away from them that they don’t want to do that night,” he said.
He even dropped a career-high 51 points – 42 above his career scoring average (8.7) – against the Rockets on April 11, 2014 – naturally, in a crucial win.
“It’s like you can’t miss,” he recalled. “When you have a game like that, it's fun to play basketball.”
There’s no secret to his longevity – until last season, Brewer was the League’s active ironman with 317 consecutive games played – or why there’s consistent demand for his services. No elixir that’s a substitute for the tenets ingrained in him since his days shucking corn and stripping tobacco under the beating sun.
“If you can help a team win,” he reiterated, “you can play.”
At age 33, he’s the elder statesman on a Kings team in need of veteran experience. Signed to a 10-day contract in late February, after three weeks with the Sixers, Brewer didn’t need much time to acclimate to his new surroundings or familiarize himself with his new teammates.
“I take pride in being able to help guys, and just being able to be a good teammate,” he said. “I’ve been on a lot of teams, so I kind of know how to fit in now.”
Days after agreeing to another non-guaranteed deal, the impactful reserve scored 11 points in 13 minutes against the Warriors, and since his Kings debut on Feb. 21, ranked fifth on the team in plus-minus (plus-five), per NBA.com.
With No. 33 on the floor, disrupting passing lanes and holding his own against opposing guards and forwards, the Kings gave up 4.1 fewer points per 100 possessions defensively -- the best rating on the team.
The longtime veteran continued to be among the NBA’s elite at leaking out in transition with breakneck speed, an area where he placed in the 79th percentile with 1.26 points per possession.
Brewer’s play generated interest around the League once his second Kings contract expired, but the youthful, impressionable locker room and fast-paced style that’s tailor-made to his strengths convinced him to stay. He’s hoping his vagabonding journey has come to a resting stop in Sacramento.
“Just being around these young guys has been fun,” he said. “Just being able to help them as best I can, and knowing how good they can be and how good they’re going to be.”
No matter which city he’s called his NBA home, Brewer has never forgotten his roots or blue-collar upbringing in the dimly-lit back roads of Portland.
The farm where he learned so many life-shaping lessons, along with his first basketball hoop erected in a patch of soil, aren’t going anywhere. When Pee Wee passed away after a long battle with diabetes and heart disease in 2012, Corey inherited the property and vows to keep it in the family.
The fond memories of his jovial role model, combined with his humility and the uncanny ability to find a silver lining amid any hardship – on or off the court – are why that all-encompassing smile hardly ever leaves his face.
“I get to play basketball for a living," Brewer said. "Why wouldn't I smile all the time?"