Hardworking defender Corey Brewer does all the little things for Wolves

MINNEAPOLIS — Corey Brewer has never been one to thrive on
the conventional.

While many rural-raised kids dream of one day spurning their
tiny hometown, the slender Timberwolves forward never stops embracing his.
While the majority of college superstars jump at their first chance at a
professional paycheck, he stayed in school an extra year in search of a second
NCAA crown — and helped seize it. While the rigors of NBA life harden and
distance a lot of the league’s highest-profile employees, he carries the same
smile-marked, effervescent demeanor you might recall from his first 3 ½ years
as a pro, all spent here during some of the franchise’s darkest days.

And from Portland, Tenn., to Gainesville, Fla., to the Twin
Cities and now back again, Brewer always has maintained that charisma, whether
he’s starting 82 games or two games, pestering opposing scorers or flying in
for a transition jam, soaking up the Minneapolis nightlife or spending a summer
afternoon at the trailer home in which he grew up.

With Brewer’s efficacious persona, the Timberwolves got a
seventh-year veteran coming into his own when they signed him for three years
and $15 million this offseason. Coach Rick Adelman expected to bring him off
the bench, but when Chase Budinger went down with a preseason knee injury,
Brewer stepped in and has been in the starting lineup for all 20 of Minnesota’s
contests to date.

Regarded as one of the NBA’s best perimeter defenders after
two pivotal years in Denver, he’s living up to that label. In addition, he’s
producing points at the most efficient rate of his career.

“He’s been a pleasant surprise,” Adelman said
earlier this season. “He’s better, I think, than we had anticipated.”

All stemming from a willingness to follow instruction rather
than personal desire.

“As long as you love the game,” Brewer told
FOXSportsNorth.com, “you do whatever you’ve got to do to play.”

It may seem quaintly noble, a small-town Southern kid still
applying a small-town Southern work ethic to big-league basketball.

But Brewer says he’s never had a choice.

Picking up the garbage

Brewer spent the first several games of his all-everything
prep career watching. He wasn’t hurt, and he wasn’t in trouble off the court.

But until Portland High School coach Tris Kington trusted
the middle-school offensive phenom to defend, he wasn’t going to see the floor.

“I was all about scoring; you’re the man,” Brewer
said. “I get to my high school, and my coach was like, ‘You’re not gonna
play if you don’t play defense.’ The only way I could get on the court was play
D.”

So Brewer did, wrapping his arms around the same pesky style
of matchup defense you’ll see when Minnesota takes on Detroit on Tuesday night.

“For us, he got a lot of garbage,” said Kington,
who still teaches at Portland but has since retired from coaching. “He
took a lot of charges — which a lot of superstars won’t take a charge — and
led the team in steals, rebounds, the whole deal. He could guard pretty much
anyone that we asked him to guard.”

By then, Brewer was no stranger to doing dirty work.

He grew up working the tobacco fields and accompanying his
father on his backcountry trash route. When he wasn’t walking the rows of crop
or manning a tractor, he and his older half-brother Jason Rogan — who went on
to play college basketball at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga — would
beat the snot out of each other on the family’s modest, crumbling cement
basketball court.

Brewer couldn’t help but focus his energy on perfecting
undesirable tasks then. He still can’t.

“Being in the field, being on the tractor, being in the
hot sun — in Tennessee, it gets hot; people don’t understand, the humidity is
no joke — I guess I learned hard work,” Brewer said. “You’ve got to
work hard all the time if you want anything.”

By the end of his freshman year, he’d crept out of Kington’s
doghouse and showed off all the tools that attracted Florida coach Billy
Donovan’s eye. Brewer still got to score — in one game his freshman year, he
notched 50 points, Kington said.

Growing nearly a foot between his eighth grade and sophomore
years, Brewer went on to lead Portland to its first state tournament in 2003
and was named the state’s Class AA “Mr. Basketball.” That and his
exploits with the Tennessee Travelers AAU club wrought all kinds of national
recruiting attention, including McDonald’s All-American recognition and a spot
in the Jordan All-American game.

But Kington never made it easy on him — three-hour workout
sessions starting at 6 a.m., four days a week during the summer, increasing
asks to round out his game, and so on.

“When I was in high school and coaching, you had to be
a pretty dedicated guy to play for me,” said Kington, who speaks with the
same southern drawl almost everyone from the town of less than 12,000
possesses. “I demanded quite a bit of him. When he wasn’t traveling with
his AAU team, he always worked extremely hard in the weight room. He was just a
joy to coach, really.”

Kington wouldn’t be the last coach to express that
sentiment.

Little things

Despite local and family pressure to attend the University
of Tennessee, Brewer took Donovan up on his offer to try and make a
championship run at Florida. With Brewer and fellow NBA mainstays Joakim Noah
and Al Horford leading the charge, the Gators made two, claiming back-to-back
titles in 2006 and 2007.

But not before Brewer had to prove his defensive and
detail-oriented worth once again.

“Same thing (as high school),” Brewer said.
“I learned if I’m gonna get on the court, you’ve got to do the little
things. I wanted to play; I didn’t want to sit on the bench my freshman
year.”

This time, he didn’t have to.

Lauding Brewer’s balanced game, Donovan gave him a starting
spot right off the bat. Brewer didn’t disappoint, finishing his career fifth in
program history with 176 steals and first in NCAA tournament scoring. His
junior season, the SEC named him its co-defensive player of the year.

Donovan credited Brewer’s upbringing, specifically his
father Ellis “Pee Wee” Brewer and mother Glenda, for the sinewy small
forward’s near-instant collegiate blossoming.

“They’re great people,” Donovan said before his
team knocked off Ohio State in the 2007 NCAA championship game. “They’re
people that have worked very, very hard. They’ve worked very hard to try to
raise Corey in a way about getting his degree, going to school, being a good
person, being a good role model.” 

Corey Brewer wound up leaving college before completing his
studies, but not when most experts thought he should have.

Brewer, Horford and Noah and fellow “Florida ’04s”
member Taurean Green all decided against testing the NBA Draft waters following
their sophomore season together. Brewer recalls being told that he, Horford and
Noah were potential lottery picks, but after besting UCLA — a team that
included current Timberwolves forward Luc Mbah a Moute — in the 2006 title
tilt, all four decided to come back and try to do it again.

“We were having too much fun,” Brewer said.
“Wanted to win it again.”

They did, beating Ohio State for the championship in 2007,
and the decision to delay the NBA paid off for Noah in Chicago and Horford in
Atlanta, while Green was drafted by Portland in the second round but lasted
only one year in the NBA.

Early in the 2013-14 season, it looks like Brewer has now
found his place in Minnesota.

Just not the way he’d planned.

Staying rooted

Three years of team futility in the Twin Cities after the
Timberwolves took him seventh overall in the 2007 draft. A trade to New York as
part of the Carmelo Anthony deal and a proverbial pink slip a week later. A
short stint in Dallas that brought little playing time but a 2011 championship
ring. Two years in Denver where he thrived as a floor-running, wing-defending
sixth man in George Karl’s high-tempo system.

And now, a chance to finally live up to expectations back in
Minneapolis.

“I think the opportunity is to finish what I started,
to get better, to win,” said Brewer, who played on Minnesota teams that
went a combined 61-185 from 2007-2010. “You want to win no matter what
team you play on, but for my Timberwolves, the team that drafted me, to help
them win means a lot.”

Heading into Tuesday’s matchup with the Pistons, Minnesota
is 9-11 and two games out of a playoff spot (a fact useful for context only 20
games into an 82-contest campaign).

Brewer is doing his part, starting with his never-waning
motor, Adelman said.

“Corey’s just pretty amazing and never seems to get
tired,” said the coach, who’s not often wont to dole out such high
acclaim. “He just keeps playing.”

The defensive aptitude that earned Brewer a second chance here
has shined through, as his 1.9 steals per game rank 10th in the NBA. He
virtually shut down Kevin Durant at home earlier this year, limited Anthony on
the road and even found a way to frustrate LeBron James in the first half of
Saturday’s eventual blowout loss to Miami.

But that phenomenon included a league-ruled flop that cost
Brewer $5,000. In addition to limiting the theatrics, Brewer says he’s at the
point in his career where it’s imperative he break down and study his
individual defensive foes in hopes of better exploiting their tendencies.

“I’ve made some strides, but it can get better. It can
get a lot better,” Brewer said. “For me, I’ve got to start watching
some more film, start focusing on shutting guys down better.”

President of basketball operations Flip Saunders brought
Brewer back to do just that. His career-high pace of 14 points per game — 45.4
percent of them on the fast break — have been an added bonus.

As good as he is defending on the wing, his rail-thin,
6-foot-9, 185-pound frame is sleek enough to jet the other direction for easy
transition lay-ins. He’s been Kevin Love’s favorite outlet target and ranks
second in the league in fast-break points behind James.

“He’s kind of made for the outlet pass,” Love
said. “I love having him on the team. He’s a guy that helps me look
good.” 

Brewer’s long-mysterious outside game still needs work. He’s
shooting 29.8 percent from beyond the arc — right on par for his career — but
continues to thrive from the left corner, where he’s made 11 of 26 triples.

It’s not the most glorious existence, focusing on simply
slowing top offensive threats knowing you’ll likely get beat, all while
delegating to the likes of Love, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic on offense.

And when Chase Budinger returns from his meniscus injury,
Brewer’s role may be altered again. Before the season, Adelman suggested his
original plan was to start Budinger at the three and bring Brewer off the bench
in a manner similar to what Karl did the past two seasons.

A second unit that’s second-to-last in the league in scoring
could certainly use some added punch. Brewer said he’d be happy to provide it
if asked.

Typical.

“If I have to come off the bench for us to win, that’s
fine,” said Brewer, who averaged 10.7 points and 1.3 steals in two years
with the Nuggets. “If I have to start for us to win, that’s fine. Whatever
makes us better.

“To me, it really doesn’t matter.”

Hasn’t for a long time, it would appear.

Brewer still clings to the roots that sparked his
whatever-it-takes mentality. Still goes home to visit his mother, brother and
pet goat. Still joins Kington for a free kids’ basketball clinic every summer.

Pee Wee died in February 2012 at the age of 68. But his
influence and the influence of Brewer’s early-childhood days haven’t faded.

“I think about my dad every day, just because he taught
me about hard work,” said Brewer, now 27. “He worked his butt off. He
worked in the fields every day, he had a trash route, did everything, you
know?”

A rather thankless lot in life. But one for which Brewer,
his career and his current franchise remain ever thankful.

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