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Like father, like son: Newest Jazzman Ronnie Brewer does dad, family proud

SHARE Like father, like son: Newest Jazzman Ronnie Brewer does dad, family proud

Everyone who was anyone from coach Nolan Richardson's 1994 University of Arkansas national-champion basketball team, the one that beat Duke behind Scotty Thurman's fabled last-minute 3-pointer while President Bill Clinton watched, was there.

Corliss Williamson, who at last check was still playing in the NBA, was there. Corey Beck, who bounced around the NBA a bit, and Dwight Stewart were there. Mike Anderson, the new University of Missouri coach who then was an Arkansas assistant to Richardson, was there.

That's why the kid could not cry.

There simply is no shedding tears when the whole dang '94 title team is celebrating at the lake, even when you're in fourth grade and your right arm, your shooting arm, has snapped in half because troublemakers super-slicked a waterslide.

"I didn't cry at all," the kid recalls now, some dozen years later, his own NBA career soon to begin. "I was like, 'I can't cry. These are my idols. If I cry, they're gonna be like, 'Aw, he's a chump.'

"So I just held it in."

Ronnie Brewer's parents — the father who played in the NBA himself, and the mother whose influence cannot be overstated — will never know how he did.

"Somebody said to us, 'It's just a normal kid accident,'" Carolyn Brewer said. "But at the time, it wasn't. Because it was ugly."

· · · · ·

Before emerging when Utah made him the No. 14 overall selection in the 2006 NBA Draft, Ronnie Brewer — who plays his first NBA summer-league game when the Jazz open Rocky Mountain Revue play tonight against Atlanta at Salt Lake Community College — spent many of his 21 years living in the shadows.

Such is the case when your father, Ron, was a storied star on his college team who played for six teams — Portland, San Antonio, Cleveland, Golden State, New Jersey and Chicago — and averaged 11.9 points per game over eight NBA seasons from 1978-86.

Such also is the case when you're the youngest among siblings, including one sister, Candice, who played guard at the University of Tulsa, and another, Elisha, who was an All-America sprinter at Arkansas.

No wonder Ronnie and Mama Brewer are so close.

"It happened because Ronnie was the last one, and each one of the kids, they'd say, 'OK, Dad, it's my turn,'" Carolyn Brewer said. "So, he (Ron) worked with our daughter first, through AAU, to try to help get her prepared for a college scholarship.

"He (Ronnie) would be like, 'When is it my turn, when is it my turn? I want to go to the camps.' And I'd always be like, 'OK, just be patient.' In the meantime, I'm gonna love on you. ... I'd say, 'Ronnie, it's going to be OK. Just wait your turn. I promise you — Dad's gonna work with you.'"

· · · · ·

Work may not be the word.

What Ron Brewer did with Ronnie seems more like "mold."

Some things, the father could not help but pass along. They were in the genes.

"I see a lot of his mannerisms," said Carolyn Brewer, who also played at Arkansas. "I see the way he holds his hands. When he runs, the defense — I see a lot of his dad."

The rest revolved around prepping Ronnie for what it takes to play in the NBA — while also not overwhelming him with the burden of trying to live up to the legend.

For a while, all was well.

"I didn't have no clippings to show him, I had no film to show him," said Ron, who along with Marvin Delph and five-time NBA All-Star Sidney Moncrief — the famed "Triplets," as NCAA lore knows them — led Arkansas to the 1978 Final Four. "Nothing. So he never knew. He never knew how good I was. He was hearing what other people were saying about me, (but) all he knew is, 'I'm Dad.'"

Ron, however, couldn't keep Ronnie in a cocoon.

At one point, he recalls, "Somebody brought a tape out of me hitting the last-second shot against Notre Dame."

That would be the basket by Brewer, who went on to earn all-tournament team honors, that won what was then the third-place game at the '78 Final Four.

"He (had) the opportunity to see with his own eyes," Brewer said. "He said, 'Dad, you could jump, couldn't you?' I said, 'Well, Ronnie, I played a little bit.'

"That's when he realized, 'My dad can play.'"

It would not be the only time.

· · · · ·

As much as he tried sheltering his son from history, the name was the same.

"The thing about him," Ron Brewer said, "is the pressure that's put is put on by me — because they say, 'Kid, are you gonna be as good as your dad?' Because they remember when.


Ronnie saw, and — unfortunately, from his father's perspective — heard.

"What he wanted more so than anything," Ron said, "was to shut people up, because he didn't want them even mentioning 'As good as Dad.' ... He wanted them, when it was said and done, to say, 'He was better than his dad.'"

Yet doing so, no matter what Ronnie accomplished, would prove so much easier said than done.

"How can I stop them," Ron Brewer asked with a certain sadness, "from saying, 'Oh, is he going to be as good as his dad?'"

Ultimately, he could not.

Stop them, that is.

· · · · ·

If Ronnie Brewer really wanted to dodge comparisons, though, he had an out.

He didn't really have to follow his father's footsteps so closely. Or did he? Telling times coming out of Fayetteville High, and a mother's comforting presence, expose the answer.

"When we was going through the recruiting process," Ron Brewer said, "I let him make his choice about where he wanted to go to college.

"Now, I wanted him soooo bad to go to the University of Arkansas. When it first started, I was talking, 'Arkansas, Arkansas, Arkansas.' But my wife said, 'That's not fair. You've got to let him see other opportunities.'"

Enter Oklahoma. Oklahoma State. Kansas. Enter even UConn for a recruit ranked 19th at the time by ESPN in a Class of 2003 that merely had LeBron James No. 1, Luol Deng No. 2 and Charlie Villanueva No. 3.

"He was talking to (Emeka) Okafor and Ben Gordon," the elder Brewer said, dropping the names of two UConn stars. "We was coming back on the plane, and I just knew. I told my wife, 'He likes UConn.'"

Ronnie's ensuing words, however, persuaded Ron to scratch coach Jim Calhoun's Huskies.

"He said, 'Mama, are you gonna move with me to Connecticut?'" the father said. "And when he said that, I said, 'He ain't going nowhere. ... UConn's out of the picture now — so I've got to look at schools that are closer to Fayetteville.'

"Mama's gotta get there — you know what I'm saying? ... As much as me and him are close, he's a mama's boy."

It's true.

"Yeah," Ronnie fesses with a certain shyness. "Always.

"I was like, 'If I go there, you're gonna move there, right?' She said ... 'I'm not going. I'm staying.'"

Next to go: the Jayhawks.

"Kansas took its scholarship off the table," Ron said, "because they wanted Ronnie to make a decision — and Ronnie said, 'I want my mom and my dad (to visit).' ... They said, 'We need to know before then.'

"It upset Ronnie, because Kansas was where he really wanted to go — up there with Roy Williams (now North Carolina's coach)."

Soon, then-OSU coach Eddie Sutton (Ron's coach at Arkansas) and the Cowboys also were eliminated.

"So now it's Oklahoma and Arkansas," Ron said. "We needed to make a decision on (a) Wednesday. You know when I found out where he was going to school? Tuesday night.

"We're all sitting in the family room, and I'm like, 'We've got to know something tomorrow.' So, I got tired. I went to go get in the bed. My wife came and said, 'I think you need to come in here. I think Ronnie made a decision.' I said, 'Aw, yeah — right.'

"So I come in and, he said, 'Dad, I'm going to the University of Arkansas.' And I was happy for him. But he thought that's what I wanted — for me. And I turned around and go back to bed. He said, 'Oh, you're not happy, Dad?' I said, 'Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. It's not for me. This is not for me, son — because I done went to college. I got my degree. It's you. You're the one who's got to go to school. He said, 'But Dad, this is what I want.' I said, 'I'm happy for you, son.'"

· · · · ·

Still, doubt lingered as Brewer and kin walked into a gymnasium to make public young Ronnie's biggest-ever decision.

Media members from throughout Arkansas and parts beyond packed the floor as the Brewers sat in front of the microphones.

"Ronnie's high school coach said, 'Look, we need to get an alternate plan to get you guys out of here if you don't say the right thing,'" Ron Brewer said. "I thought he was joking."

No joke.

"He said, 'Because these people are Razorback fanatics,'" Ron added, " 'and if you say Oklahoma we've got find a way to get you out of the gym.'"

Now that's pressure.

"I was on one side of him, my wife was on the other side," Ron said. "He had an Oklahoma hat, an Arkansas hat.

"He said, 'I want to thank you for coming out, but right now, I've come to my decision.' And everybody thought he was going ... to Oklahoma because he went to grab the Oklahoma hat."

Hah, hah ... huh?

No Sooner, Ronnie made known his true intention.

Sooey, pig pig pig.

"It wasn't necessarily because (Ron) went there. Early in the process, I was not gonna go to Arkansas," Ronnie said, serious as can be. "But it was just the right situation for me."

Ronnie took all the time he needed to come to the conclusion, a process that — as another life-altering decision would confirm — seems to be his way.

Before having to make the next huge call, though, Ron's legacy would hover overhead a while longer.

"I was on the top of my game as a senior in college," Ron said. "They're telling a little freshman, 'Are you gonna be as good?' I said, 'C'mon, guys, be fair. He just got in here.' I said, 'Ask him by the time he's a junior.'"

· · · · ·

It's that aforementioned freshman year at Arkansas, and the Hawgs aren't doing so hot.

"Our spirits were kind of down," Ronnie said, "and our coach (Stan Heath) said, 'You've got to have pride wearing that jersey.' He had me stand up and tell everybody why I had pride being a Razorback.

"I said, 'Well, I'm from Arkansas. I'm from Fayetteville. Going to the university has been my dream. My dad played here,' blah, blah, blah."

Cue the video.

"They had some tapes of him, along with a lot of the greats in Arkansas history," Ronnie said, "so I got to see him and appreciate the skills he had and what he brought to the table.

"I kind of recognized, 'OK, that's where I get some of that.'"

It's all making sense now.

"We've both got quick hands," said Ronnie, an athletic swingman who plays what is deemed to be Doug Christie-like defense with hints of Josh Howard and Marquis Daniels in his game. "I mean, he anticipates passes like I (do) to get steals and go down there and finish."

But are they carbon copies?

Ronnie's not so sure.

"His jump shot is a little different than mine, because he shot under ball, and he jumped a little bit higher, because he used to high jump in high school," the kid said of his old man. "I'm a little bit taller (about 6-foot-6 barefoot vs. 6-4), I'm a little bigger, I can play a few different positions.

"So our games are really not that similar."

Their resolve, however, seems to be.

· · · · ·

Flash forward to the end of Ronnie's third year at Arkansas, 2006.

He's averaged 18.4 points per game as a junior. He may not have taken them to the Final Four like Pop and friends, but the revived Razorbacks are back in the NCAA tourney for the first time since 2001.

Hope throughout the Land of Opportunity is that Brewer will return for his senior season and carry the Hawgs deep into the dance.

Ron Brewer, however, has other ideas — chiefly, that Ronnie is NBA-ready.

"I told him, 'Look, right now, you've got to think about what's best for Ronnie.' ... I said, 'You've got the basketball part. They've turned you into a young man,'" Ron said. "I said, 'The only thing that matters is we didn't get our degree yet. Are you gonna get your degree?' I went, 'Yeah, he's gonna get his degree — because on top of our mantle is everybody's degree but his.'"

Ronnie felt the same. It just took him much longer to come to the realization. He, go figure, took forever before formally announcing he'd definitely make himself draft-eligible.

"I said, 'Ronnie, we've got to put the information out to the NBA people, because Sunday's the deadline date. ... We've got to have a press conference, so you can say one way or the other. Either you're gonna stay, or you're gonna go,'" Ron said. "So we had a press conference — Thursday."

The broadcast journalism major, it seems, is a procrastinator not real comfy with this whole deadline thing.

"Just about 10 minutes before we got to the press conference, he said, 'I think I made up my mind. I'm gonna go into the NBA Draft.' That's how he does it," Ron said. "He's so much of a good person that he thinks he's stepping on toes. He thought he was hurting the (Arkansas) coach's feelings, the players he was leaving behind.

"But one thing we have to give him credit for: He made those decisions," Ron added with a glance at his wife. "Nobody can say that it was 'Dad's decision' or 'Mom's decision,' because it didn't happen that way.

"I just was wanting him to make that decision a month and a half before. Because I knew it was the best thing. But I couldn't make him do something he didn't want to do."

· · · · ·

Ron's boy very much wanted to go down the slide at Beaver Lake.

He had no idea what was coming.

"They (pranksters) put soap on the slide, and they pushed me down it," Ronnie said. "I tried to stop myself. This pole was holding the slide out of the water, and I tried to grab it. Right when I was going into the water, I hit the pole and it fractured my arm."

Humerus bone busted; just above the elbow.

Dad knew the situation was serious: "I mean, you could see where it came out."

The youngster's closest ally didn't know what to think: "None of our children," Carolyn Brewer said, "had ever broken anything."

Ronnie, though, immediately pondered a frightening possibility: "I can't play basketball again."

After the arm was set and placed in a cast, Ronnie said, "My mom was like, 'Well, you've got to stop playing basketball. You've got to let it heal.'"

"The guy (doctor) told us it was going to heal properly," Ron added. "It wasn't going to mess up the growth plate or anything."

So Ronnie waited. And waited.

When the day came that the cast finally was removed, he could wait no longer.

"I hadn't practiced, but my dad was coach of the team," Ronnie said. "My dad was like, 'You've got to sit on the bench.' I said, 'I can play.'"

Not very well, as it happened; muscles in the limb had atrophied.

"My dad was like, 'Son, you've got to stop,'" Ronnie said. "I was like, "I'm all right, I'm all right.'"

Was he?

"This arm here," Carolyn said, pointing to her own by way of example, "(still) goes all the way around."

Yet Ronnie played anyway that day the cast came off.

"After that," he said, "I didn't feel like it was going to bother me at all."

And it hasn't, really, even if his shot never has been the same.

Rather than hold his elbow down like most shooters, his juts up and out. And the funky stroke remains an issue, despite scoring like he has, despite being drafted just seven spots after his father, despite becoming a millionaire NBA lottery pick.

Brewer doesn't get it.

"I led the SEC in scoring," Ronnie said, "but the only thing they were talking about was, 'Aw, he can't shoot because his arm was broken in fourth grade.' I was like, 'Well, I broke it in fourth grade — it would have healed by fifth grade, or sixth grade or seventh grade.'"

Still, unfamiliar fans, won't-let-it-go media and even some teams that considered drafting him can't contain their curiosity about the bizarre-looking release.

"It came up (before the draft)," said Brewer's agent, Henry Thomas. "But we're not gonna mess with the shot."

Not that anyone really can.

"Anybody who looks at his technique who feels like they're into basketball will try to change it," Ron said. "I tried. It don't work. Believe me, it don't work. And the reason you don't want to change it: Because he makes shots.

"Anybody who knows realizes it's the finish that counts," he added. "And I tell him, 'Ronnie, they can talk about your shot all year long. As long as it goes in, there ain't nothing they're gonna say.'"

Actually, though, some do say something.

"Once I got older," Ronnie Brewer said, "everybody was like, 'Oh, you're the basketball player. I remember when you broke your arm. You didn't cry. I know you were in pain, though.'"

Revue opens

The Rocky Mountain Revue — the Jazz's summer league — featuring seven NBA teams opens today at Salt Lake Community College's Life Activity Center. See schedule on related link above.

E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com