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How Corey Brewer’s Hard Work in NBA Began on the Farm

Corey Brewer spoke with Basketball Insiders about how working with his father on a farm taught him to work hard and led to his success in the NBA.

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The days began around seven in the morning and lasted until the weather on the tobacco farm became too warm. The hours were long, the humidity was stifling and the job was challenging.

This backdrop set the stage for Corey Brewer’s discipline and appreciation of hard work that has led to a 12-year NBA career and recent resurgence with the Philadelphia 76ers.

“I grew up farming tobacco, soybeans and corn in Portland, Tennessee,” Brewer told Basketball Insiders. “The best city in the world.”

Brewer’s father, Ellis “Pee Wee” Brewer, owned a tobacco farm, where Brewer’s responsibilities varied from day to day.

“[I did] whatever my dad told me to do,” Brewer said. “I had to drive a tractor sometimes. I had to pick up tobacco sticks sometimes, I’d have to chop it up, I’d have to cut tobacco, whatever.”

Growing up, most of the work was done for free. Spending time with his father was enough compensation. As he got older, he was paid for his tasks on the farm.

“Five dollars an hour,” the 32-year-old Brewer said. “That’s a lot of money back then.”

Brewer’s father also ran a trash pickup business in Portland. Brewer accompanied him whenever he had a day off from school. He recalled sitting in the front seat with his father as they drove along the route and also jumping on piles of trash when they got too high.

“I’ve seen a lot of maggots in my life,” Brewer said.

The tone in Brewer’s voice is one of happiness, not exasperation, when he recounts the to-dos given to him by his father. The look on his face never breaks from a smile, the pure joy of these memories emanating through his expression.

“I love my dad, so just getting to be around my dad I would do whatever,” Brewer said. “I wasn’t into sports like that. I was a daddy’s boy.”

Brewer, as time went on, did get into sports. He became the seventh pick in the 2007 NBA Draft and won a championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. But when the 2018-19 season began, Brewer was without a team. Opportunities presented themselves, but Brewer found himself playing superheroes with his children while his peers were reaching the halfway point of the season.

He was also staying ready.

Brewer trained at Rice University in Houston. He focused on his conditioning with lots of movement and cardio, running specifically, as well as keeping up with his basketball work. Even if the phones weren’t always ringing, “you never know when you’re going to get a call,” he said.

The Sixers reached out for a group workout in January at their training complex in Camden, New Jersey. They were looking to add depth to their bench and had a set criteria in mind. Brewer, as head coach Brett Brown described it, checked off the boxes. The first was high character.

“I think it’s crucial that as we grow our team and we have different personalities at different stages of their career, that we need solid coming into the locker room,” Brown said. “We want to play defense, we want to guard always and he could do that. A really close third was, can he make a shot. It was tick, tick, tick in that order.”

The Sixers signed Brewer to a 10-day contract on January 15. He logged eight minutes that night in his debut and was a DNP the next two games. Brewer then was thrown right into the mix on January 21 when Brown gave him the nod to start in place of an injured Jimmy Butler. His assignment: defend his former teammate and reigning MVP James Harden.

Brewer was locked in, energetic, and pesky. His performance was everything the Sixers needed from him in their 121-93 blowout against the Rockets.

“The fact that he could come into an NBA game in the middle of January and guard James Harden without having come from Maccabi Tel Aviv or CSKA Moscow or somewhere in the EuroLeague or with another NBA team or with a G League team and leap into the NBA and play 34 minutes and play with the tenacity and energy that he did, and by the way you’ve got James Harden, that’s a lot of things that would have had to have taken place in relation to his preparation to attain that fitness base,” Brown said. “I expected to see him come in [the next day] with drip bags and carrying something around after that effort.”

In that same game, Brewer made a strong impression on his teammates with his vocal leadership. He pulled younger players aside to offer them advice on defending Harden and also gave Joel Embiid a pep talk in the second half. Brewer has clocked nearly 1,000 minutes in the playoffs and understands the steps that need to be achieved during the regular season to reach success well after 82 games.

“He’s always talking,” Embiid said. “We need that, that veteran presence, that knows what it takes to win and that’s important.”

Brewer has averaged 7.7 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.7 steals in 22.8 minutes in three games, including two starts for the Sixers. The team signed him to a second 10-day contract on January 25. His contributions will be needed as Butler is still dealing with a right wrist injury and the Sixers are set to embark on a four-game west coast road trip against the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings.

Brewer has the opportunity to make significant contributions on the Sixers, yet it was only a month ago he was pondering where he would suit up this season. His drive to sign with an NBA team never wavered, motivated by his children, nine-year-old Kellen who has joined him for workouts, and four-year-old Sebastian.

“I love basketball,” Brewer said of his drive. “Just the love for the game.”

Following what he loves to do has led to success and joy for Brewer. The farm where he learned lessons that have translated into a long NBA career still is a part of his life. He inherited it when his father passed away in 2012 and intends to keep it in his family for generations to come.

As Brewer helped his father cut tobacco and pick up garbage, he had no way of knowing he one day would be in the place he is in now. What he does know is how those moments spent with the man he looked up to so fondly played a major role in becoming the professional athlete he is today.

“I work hard because he worked hard,” Brewer said. “I just wanted to be like him … My dad was always happy and always smiling. He made me happy. That’s why I always smile. People are like, ‘Why are you always happy?’ I’m like, ‘My dad hauled trash and he was a farmer. Why would I not be happy? I play in the NBA for a living.’”

Jessica Camerato is a bilingual reporter who has been covering the NBA since 2006. She has also covered MLB, NHL and MLS. A graduate of Quinnipiac University, Jessica is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association and the Association for Women in Sports Media.

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