Skip to main content
Original Issue

Don't Be a Fool, Stay in School

A champion Florida team bursting with NBA-ready talent returned intact--thanks to a humble, hardworking Tennessee farmer

Ellis (Pee Wee)Brewer isn't like the other dads of Florida's junior class, the famous facesthat flashed on your television the night the Gators won the national titlelast April. Pee Wee never played championship tennis like Joakim Noah's dad,Yannick, never logged a minute in the NBA like Taurean Green's pops, Sidney, orAl Horford's dad, Tito. All Pee Wee ever did was toil in the fields of ruralPortland, Tenn., day after day, raising 100 acres of tobacco, mostly, but alsostrawberries, corn and soybeans. To help make ends meet, he had atrash-collecting route on the side. ¶ Sixty-two-year-old Pee Wee Brewer (nobodyin Portland, the Strawberry Capital of Middle Tennessee, calls him Ellis) hasnever been famous. "But," says his son Corey, Florida's high-flyingswingman, "he's special to me." ¶ It was Pee Wee who taught Corey hiswork ethic, rising every day before dawn to head into the sun-parched tobaccofields. It was Pee Wee who installed the wooden backboard in the driveway,setting the scene for all those late-night games involving Corey and his olderhalf brother, Jason Rogan, who'd go on to play at Tennessee-Chattanooga. And itwas Pee Wee who dressed young Corey in a pair of oversized coveralls and lethim come along to watch when he slaughtered hogs. "Whenever they neededsomeone to drive the tractor, they'd come get Corey. He liked to do all thatstuff," says his mother, Glenda, a special-ed assistant at Portland Highand Pee Wee's wife of 20 years, a woman who speaks in a delightful Tennesseeaccent, pronouncing Corey as CO-ray and tobacco as to-BACKER-er.

"Corey wasalways in the fields with the tobacco and our dad," says Jason. "Ithink that's why he and Dad are so close."

Yet Pee Wee nevermade it onto your television last April because he never made it toIndianapolis for the Final Four. Pee Wee's heart troubles began in 1999, andsince then he has been plagued by ill health. Open-heart surgery. Three balloonangioplasties. A brown-recluse-spider bite that caused the removal of his rightlittle finger. He's seen Corey play live only once during college--last seasonat Vanderbilt, when Corey scored a career-high 26 points--and when it came timefor Corey's finest hour, Pee Wee just couldn't summon the energy to join Glendaand Jason in Indy.

Not that Pee Weewas alone, mind you. "My husband has a bunch of friends, and since he'sbeen sick, they come every day to see him," says Glenda. On that fatefulMonday night more than 40 friends and family members joined him at the Brewerhousehold in Portland, where they ate pork chops and mashed potatoes andwatched Corey and the Gators on Pee Wee's favorite TV, in the kitchen. Not longafter Florida had beaten UCLA 73--57 and Corey had run into the stands to hugGlenda and Jason, he placed a call above the din of the RCA Dome. "Daddy,we did it!" he screamed, and his old man might have shed a tear or two.

Despite hisabsence from the Final Four, Pee Wee would play a key role for the Gators--for2006--07. To hear the Florida players tell the story, Pee Wee is one of themain reasons these national champions passed up the NBA draft and decided toreturn en masse for one more season in Gainesville. Corey says he was nearlyout the school door when he had the Big Talk with his parents on the phone aweek and a half after the title game. Corey would almost surely have gone inthe first round, and finances were on his mind. "My dad can't work, and mymom's a teacher," he says. "Basically, my mom tries to take care of allthe bills on her teacher's salary, and she works only nine months of the year.So it's hard, but we get by." In the end, Corey says, "it came down tomy dad."

"You don'thave to [go to the NBA] for us," Pee Wee told his son over the phone."You do what's best for you. School isn't a bad thing; it's a good thing.This isn't about money. It's about living your life the way you want to liveyour life."

Corey, acommunications major, decided to stay in college, and so did the rest of theGators, which was no accident. "Knowing Corey's situation financially, hisdecision to come back to school was a way bigger story than me or Al," saysNoah. "I was, like, If this guy's coming back, there's no question what I'mgoing to do." And so, for the first time in 10 years all five starters froma national champion (including senior guard Lee Humphrey) returned to play incollege the following season, with a big assist to the one father among thejuniors' dads who never played professional sports.

Since then, lifehas gotten even harder for Pee Wee. His diabetes worsened in October, and thatmonth doctors had to amputate his left leg below the knee. When his conditiondeteriorated in November, Corey flew home for a day and surprised his dad."My husband had a fit when he saw him come in," says Glenda. "Thatjust made his day. [Pee Wee's] receding on the top, and Corey came and kissedhim on the top of his head. He loves his dad, and his daddy loves him."Corey spent his entire time with Pee Wee, talking and laughing and watchingfootball on the tube, and darned if Pee Wee didn't start getting better.

He still has along way to go, though. Pee Wee started physical rehabilitation last week, sothat he could begin the long process of learning to walk again. "Hopefully,everything will work out once he gets his prosthetic leg," says Jason,"but he's in good spirits, and I think by summertime he'll be O.K." PeeWee watches all of Corey's games on television, and so far the season has beenmore challenging than expected. The Gators have lost twice; Corey has justreturned from a bout of mononucleosis; and one talking head from ESPN saidCorey had made the wrong decision by returning. Said he'd jeopardized his NBAfirst-round status. Said, in effect, that Pee Wee had given his son the wrongadvice.

Not true, saysCorey. "I still feel like I made the right decision," he maintains."You never get this time back, and I feel like I'm having the most fun I'vehad in my whole life, just going to school and playing basketball and nothaving to worry about anything, really." After all, Glenda says, insurancewill take care of Pee Wee's medical bills. And if everything breaks right, oneof these days he'll be able to see Corey make his NBA debut.

"My daddidn't do anything like the other fathers on our team," says Corey,"but we're fine with that. We care for him a lot." For the man who'srecovering on a hospital bed in Tennessee, it almost goes without saying thatthe feeling is mutual.

Greg Oden will stay.
In a stunning move, the Ohio State center (left) will announce that he'sreturning for his sophomore season despite the near certainty that he'd be theNo. 1 pick in the June NBA draft. After Oden's announcement, co--freshmen ofthe year Kevin Durant (Texas) and Chase Budinger (Arizona) will shoot to thetop of the draft board in the battle to be chosen first.

Roy Williams will return to the national championshipgame.
The North Carolina coach will get choked up before the final as he talks aboutKansas, his former employer and the Tar Heels' title opponent in Atlanta.Unmoved, the Jayhawks will take down Ol' Roy's team in a fast-paced thriller,riding the sterling performance of Most Outstanding Player Julian Wright.

Mike Montgomery will be back on campus.
Lured by the Nike dollars of primary Oregon donor Phil Knight, the formerStanford and Golden State Warriors honcho (left)--the game's most-sought-afterunemployed coach--will replace Ernie Kent in Eugene.

A celebration will turn catastrophic.
After years of close calls, college basketball will have its first major injuryof a student who has rushed the court after a big win.

Theme song from a New Jersey hair band
Bon Jovi's Livin' on a Prayer was the unofficial soundtrack for George Mason'smiracle run to the Final Four, the first time a mid-major had reached collegebasketball's marquee event since 1979.

Rebound after rejection
After being turned down by Texas' Rick Barnes, Memphis's John Calipari, formerUCLA coach Steve Lavin--and, presumably, Mike Krzyzewski's dog Cameron--N.C.State ended a monthlong coaching search by hiring former Wolfpack guard SidneyLowe to replace Herb Sendek.

Argument for college hoops over the NBA
Adam Morrison (below) broke down in tears when Gonzaga lost to UCLA in the NCAASweet 16 round. How can you not prefer a sport whose players are thatemotionally invested?

Outfit (coaches' division)
Tennessee's Bruce Pearl broke out a hunter-safety Day-Glo orange sport coatbefore a Feb. 7 game at Kentucky, and the Vols pulled off a 75--67 upset.

Outfit (players' division)
Florida center Joakim Noah was photographed wearing a full-length blue muumuu(an African jellaba, to be precise) on campus. "You don't have anyunderwear on, and the air's going up there," Noah explained. "It's agreat feeling."

State
Kansas boasts SI's preseason No. 1 (Kansas), one of the nation's top mid-majors(Wichita State) and an outlaw coach who's landing the top prospects in the land(Bob Huggins at Kansas State).

Overexposed fan (not that we mind) Kentuckysuper-supporter Ashley Judd (right) might be known more these days for herpit-stained Rupp Arena fanaticism than for any of her recent star turns on thesilver screen.

Impression of Jared from the Subway ads LSU's Glen(Big Baby) Davis lost more than 50 pounds to drop to 289, in part by switchingfrom junk food to oatmeal for breakfast.

New coaching rivalry
Indiana's Kelvin Sampson and Illinois's Bruce Weber became involved in anintense battle for top Indiana prospect Eric Gordon, who had initiallycommitted to the Illini. New Hoosiers honcho Sampson, however, stepped in andpried him away.

Unintentional comedy routine
CBS's Billy Packer said the NCAA tournament selection committee had "to bekidding" to give the Missouri Valley and the Colonial Athletic Associationa combined six bids. The Valley sent two teams to the Sweet 16 (Bradley andWichita State), and the CAA sent one to the Final Four (George Mason).

Hometown support
The denizens of Scranton, Pa., trekked by the busful to see native son GerryMcNamara (left) during his four seasons at Syracuse. McNamara repaid theirloyalty by carrying the Orange on a thrilling Big East tournament run thatearned them a surprise berth in the NCAAs.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION

ILLUSTRATION BY SLIM FILMS

PHOTO

JOE MCNALLY (ODEN)

GATOR WRESTLING With Pee Wee watching from home, not even a tackle attempt could stop Corey from scoring 11 points in Florida's title-game rout of UCLA.

PHOTO

PAUL SAKUMA/AP (MONTGOMERY)

ILLUSTRATION

ILLUSTRATION BY SLIM FILMS

PHOTO

JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (MORRISON)

PHOTO

JOHN SOMMERS II/REUTERS (JUDD)

PHOTO

DAMIAN STROHMEYER (MCNAMARA)