The only player in Florida Gators basketball history to win an NCAA Championship and NBA title, forward Corey Brewer signed a three-year, $15 million contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves in the offseason and will return to the team that selected him with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft.
After a three-year career at Florida that included the first triple-double in school history, two NCAA titles and the 2007 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player award, Brewer began playing as a professional with Minnesota but struggled after a torn ACL forced him to miss the majority of the 2008-09 season.
A trade resulted in Brewer being waived, but a subsequent contract signing brought him all the way to the 2011 NBA Finals with Dallas. He has spent the last three years with Denver following a second trade and raised his value by playing in George Karl’s up-tempo system. One of the most coveted free agents on the open market (after the top-tier players got snatched up this offseason), Brewer chose to reunite with Minnesota. But before that season can begin, he will return to Gainesville, FL, to host the fourth annual Corey Brewer Back-to-Back Basketball Camp benefiting the Corey Brewer Fight Diabetes Fund at Shands Hospital.
OnlyGators.com sat down with Brewer on Sunday to discuss his college legacy, NBA career and his charitable endeavors.
ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Growing up in Tennessee, what was it about Florida and head coach Billy Donovan that made you decide that playing for the Gators was the right choice for your future as a basketball player?
COREY BREWER: “First of all, when I came on my official visit and I saw the campus, I was like, man, this is so wonderful. The campus was beautiful. It was just amazing. Everybody was so nice. Coach Donovan and his style of play, playing up-and-down the court, it was perfect for me. Even though I wanted to stay close to home, Tennessee was playing slow at the time and I just did not feel like I fit into Vanderbilt’s system. Florida was definitely the place for me.”
AS: Did you know any of the other guys in your recruiting class before committing?
CB:Al [Horford] from Nike camps a little bit, and I knew Taurean [Green]. He was trying to get me to commit hard when we were at camps together over the summer. Taurean committed first and he was like, ‘Come on, we need you, we need you, you need to go ahead and commit.’ I heard that for a week straight and got to know him well. I didn’t know Jo[akim Noah] too well though.”
AS: What did you think about Jo the first time you met him?
CB: “This guy is just a free spirit, a good guy. When we first met, we were playing in the gym and he came in and started working hard. You could just tell he was a good guy.”
AS: I’ve asked Taurean before what was the funniest moment he remembered having with Jo. What he told me was something I remember seeing with my own eyes, you four walking into Turlington Plaza and Jo leading the pack with this big silver boom box over his right shoulder. Is that also the funniest thing you remember him doing, or do you have something else to reflect back on?
CB: “That’s probably one of the funniest things. We were these four little nerdy freshmen with this boom box walking around campus. Nobody knew who we were at first when we got on campus. It was Summer B. Nobody knew us. It wasn’t even basketball season, it was football season. That was really funny, and it’s good to remember those times. Jo would always make us laugh even when we were trying to be serious or look cool.”
AS: When the Gators started the 2005-06 season, you guys were unranked in the polls and nationally everyone thought Florida was in for a down year. At what point during that season did you and your teammates realize that something special was going on?
CB: “After we won the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. Taurean was playing out of his mind, and I think he won MVP of that event. We were in New York, and we were just clicking on all cylinders. I think we won 17-straight. We felt good. We did not know how far it would go, but we knew if we got into the tournament we could make a run…and we made more than a run.”
AS: You recorded the first triple-double in school history during that season in a game against Jacksonville in December. Does that performance stand out to you when you look back on your UF career?
CB: “It was just one of the good games I had at Florida. What I really remember is all of the winning and having fun with the guys. When you get into the tournament, I feel like I remember all the tournament games because every game was do or die.”
AS: After winning that first title, there was a lot of talk about you, Al and Jo all declaring for the draft. Jo would have been the No. 1 overall pick, and both you and Al would have been top-20 selections. They have both talked about your decision to come back to school being the clincher because of what you had to give up in order to pursue a second ring. How tough of a decision was it for you to turn down money that could have been a huge help to your family, and why did you ultimately decide to return? [Editor’s Note: Brewer’s father, Ellis “Pee Wee” Brewer, had numerous medical problems including diabetes. He passed away in Feb. 2012 at the age of 68.]
CB: “It was a tough decision. I thought I was doing to declare, but we were having so much fun. Being on the Florida campus was amazing. You feel like it’s home. You don’t want to leave home again, I guess you could say. So I went home to Tennessee that summer and talked to my dad, told him I thought I was going to declare. He said, ‘Don’t do it for me. Do what makes you happy. I’ve lived my life. I’m 60-some years old. You don’t have to go to the NBA for me. Go for yourself.’ I had to think about it. When I went back to campus, I thought about us all coming in together and how we should all leave together. ‘One for all, all for one.’ At the time, Taurean wouldn’t have declared, so I decided to go back to school. It was the right thing to do.”
AS: I remember you guys talking about making the final decision pretty close to that celebration in the O’Dome. Did you decide in your meeting with Coach Donovan, or did you know beforehand and tried to surprise him?
AS: “We decided together before the meeting. We knew what we were going to do before we told coach. Coach told us to leave because we were all projected to be lottery picks or at least top-20 picks. Jo would have been the No. 1 pick. So in my mind it was like, if you want to go, we can go. You’re going to be the No. 1 pick. We’re all going to be first-round picks. There was no pressure. But we decided it was too much fun. We knew we could do it again. The only way we would come back is if we’re going to do it again. And we all agreed that we can do it again. We knew we could keep playing like we were playing.”
AS: I’m sure the feeling of winning that first national title was special, but I remember seeing the smile on your face and the excitement on the stage when all four of you announced you were coming back for your junior seasons during the championship celebration in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. What did it feel like to get that type of reaction – so much love and applause – from your fans and fellow students?
CB: “It felt great. The fans went crazy, absolutely nuts. We were just so happy. Everybody was happy. It’s the best feeling when you can make everybody happy. One decision made everybody happy. It worked out for everybody. Campus was crazy for another year. We won another championship, the football team winds up winning a national championship. It was the best year ever.”
AS: That second championship run was obviously very special, and it culminated with you winning Most Outstanding Player for the 2007 NCAA Final Four. What was it like to first win the title and then realize you were being singled out for how well you played in those last two games?
CB: “It was crazy. I wasn’t even thinking about the MOP award; I was thinking about we won again, we did it again. I was happy about that, too, but I just wanted to tell my dad how much I loved my dad because that never would have happened if he didn’t tell me what he told me. It was amazing to do it again, and it was because of him, so I had to thank him in that moment and tell him how much I loved him.”
AS: How is your relationship these days with your former teammates and coaches? Are you still close with the guys and Coach Donovan? Do you speak to them often?
CB: “I talk to Coach Donovan a little bit, I wouldn’t say a lot, because he’s got his own guys to develop now. We still have a great relationship though. I still have a great relationship with jo, Al and Taurean. We try to talk whenever we can. When we see each other, it’s just like nothing’s ever changed.”
AS: When I interviewed Al and Taurean in the past, they both said you are by far the toughest person to get ahold of on a regular basis. What’s the deal?
CB: “Who, me? Laughing I do always change my number, so they may think I’m the toughest to get in touch with. But somebody always finds my number, so it works out.”
AS: Is the last time all four of you were together at Taurean’s wedding two years ago?
CB: “Taurean’s wedding? I’m not sure. I was just together with Al. Me, Taurean and Jo were just together last summer in Los Angeles. That may have been the last time all four of us were together. We always try to do something every summer though. We still haven’t thought about this summer yet. We usually try to go to a football game – the first game is usually right before we have to report – so we usually try to go.”
AS: OK, let’s talk about your NBA career. What was the toughest adjustment you had to make when you started playing during your first few seasons with Minnesota?
CB: “Playing slow, going into the post every possession and not running, walking the ball up the court. It was so hard. It was tough for me to adjust. I had a rough first two years in the league because it took a while to get used to the pace of the game.”
AS: When you got hurt and it derailed some of your progress, did you kind of feel that you had lost your place in how the team was being built going forward? You were a big part of it and then shortly after you came back, you weren’t starting as much and obviously eventually you got traded.
CB: “We had a new general manager, so I knew when Kevin McHale was gone, I was going to be out of there. When David Kahn came, he was getting rid of everybody that McHale had put on the team. I was the last one to go. It was down to me and Kevin Love left, and I knew Kevin Love wasn’t going anywhere. I knew I would be out of there eventually, and I got traded.”
AS: When you got traded as part of the blockbuster Carmelo Anthony deal and wound up with him on New York, that was obviously a strange situation because there was never really the intention of you playing for the Knicks. You eventually went on to win the title with Dallas that season. Can you discuss how that all played out?
CB: “It was good, actually. I didn’t wind up in New York because it was a situation where I knew I wasn’t going to be playing. I asked Donnie Walsh [the Knicks’ general manager] for a buyout, and he let me get a buyout. I was happy he was able to do that. He had a good relationship with my agent. I eventually became a free agent, and I felt like I was getting recruited again. I was getting a lot of calls. I knew I would sign with somebody, and it came down to San Antonio, Boston and Dallas. Dallas offered me a three-year deal, so I jumped on that. It was fine by me and a good experience. I was able to grow and learn as a player. I wasn’t playing much, but I was around Jason Terry, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd, learning the game. It made me a better player. I worked my butt off just trying to get better and learn from those guys.”
AS: Did you know that you’re the only basketball player in Florida program history to win an NCAA Championship and NBA title?
CB: “I did not know that. Wow. All right!”
AS: Your three years with Denver seemed to be the most fun you had playing in the NBA. What was it like to return to that style of play with Coach Karl?
CB: “It felt like I was in college again. We played fast, everybody shared the ball. We won 57 games, 38 games at home, only lost three at home. We won like 18 in a row. It was a good situation playing with the Nuggets.”
AS: What would you say Coach Donovan taught you at Florida that helped you the most in your NBA career?
CB: “Basically, he told us it is all about winning. I don’t think any of us were selfish, and he made sure of that. As a teammate, you have to do whatever it takes to win. I do whatever it takes to win – come off the bench, starting. It’s about being successful, making the team better. There are not a lot of NBA guys like that, so that’s why I think Gators are always in a good situation when they come into the league.”
AS: You had other suitors but ultimately decided to go back to Minnesota on a three-year deal. Why did you decide to sign with the Timberwolves this offseason?
CB: “I felt like it was the best situation for me. I had other potential situations. I could have gone to Sacramento, Milwaukee or some other teams, but I looked at Minnesota and they really wanted me bad. They offered me the deal I wanted; they offered me $5 million per year, which made me happy, was fine by me. I looked at the team. I get to play with Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love – an All-Star. And then when they signed Kevin Martin, I knew that’s where I wanted to be. We also signed Nicola Pekovic back. I’ll fit in well there.”
AS: This is now your fourth year doing the Corey Brewer Back-to-Back Youth Basketball Camp to fight diabetes, which I’m assuming you were inspired to start by your father due to his medical condition. Can you talk a little bit about the camp and why it is such a passion for you?
CB: “It’s my first time back in Gainesville this summer. I come back every summer to do this camp. I love to come back to Gainesville because of all of the people there. Being able to play at the University of Florida was great. Shands does a lot of great things with diabetes and diabetes research. It’s a good thing to get together with those guys and raise some money for diabetes. It’s a disease that people need to know more about, and it obviously affected my family, so it is definitely something I care a lot about.”
AS: There are a bunch of different facets to the camp, drills and lectures, practices and games. Which would you say is your favorite part of the camp each year?
CB: “My favorite part is just meeting the kids. In the fourth year now, I think I know all the kids’ names. I’ve seen some of these kids come from the first year to the third year and hopefully we have a bunch of repeats again. Just to see them grow is kind of cool. They get better and all have a great time at the camp. It just brings a smile to my face to see them have so much fun.”
AS: Do you have any plans to work out at Florida’s facility or practice with the team?
CB: “I usually head over to the facility to work out and practice, so hopefully I get to work out with some of the new guys. I want to see what the Gators are going to be like for next season, and I always like to catch up with Casey [Prather]. I told Casey when he came on his visit to Florida that he needed to go to Florida. He’s a Tennessee guy, and we make things happen. Tennessee guys at the University of Florida – me, Lee Humphrey, Steve Spurrier – it speaks for itself. Laughing I just think [Prather is] going to come into his own this year. He’s getting better year by year, and I think this is going to be a big year for him. He’s very athletic, and I know Coach Donovan is going to be working with him individually on his game. Hopefully this year we see a lot more big dunks and a lot more Casey Prather on the court.”
Fourth Annual Corey Brewer Back-to-Back Youth Basketball Camp
» Date: August 8-10 | Time: 9:00 a.m. to 4 p.m.
» Location: The Rock School – 9818 SW 24th Avenue, Gainesville, Florida, 32607
» Campers: Boys and Girls (ages 9-18) | Cost: $125 per camper
» Camp Includes: Lectures, Basketball Drill Stations, Player Evaluations, 5 on 5 Games, Basketball Contests and Education Sessions
» Campers Receive: T-shirt, photos with Corey Brewer, Awards, Lunch, Camp Certificate and instruction from some of the top coaches in the region
Corey Brewer will donate his camp proceeds to the “Corey Brewer Fight Diabetes Fund” at Shands Hospital at the University of Florida
Photo Credits: John Gress/Reuters, Unknown