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NCAA MEN'S BASKETBALL NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP | UCLA
VS. FLORIDA

The Hard Way

Florida's Brewer and his dad, who spent years toiling, take pride in each other

April 03, 2006|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — Joakim Noah never bent his back to pick tobacco in the hot sun.

Al Horford never had to haul trash all day long.

Taurean Green doesn't know what it's like to fret over a father with a weak heart.

They are the sons of famous men.

Corey Brewer is not.

"My dad was a farmer, and he had a trash route," Brewer said. "We had to go in the fields. Pick tobacco. Cut it. It hurts your back. You have to lean over a lot."

On a Florida team flush with pedigreed athletes -- the sons of a French Open champion and two NBA players -- Brewer is the one who pulled himself up by his bootstraps.

His father, Ellis Brewer, worked 100 acres of tobacco, sometimes strawberries, sometimes cucumbers, in rural Portland, Tenn., and had a trash business on the side until his body told him no more.

"I've been disabled five years," said Ellis, 62, who watched from Tennessee as his 6-foot-8 son helped Florida reach the national championship game. "I had an open-heart surgery years ago. I've had angioplasties, the balloon, three of those.

"A spider bit me about four years ago, one of those brown recluses, and they had to take my little finger on my right hand. The antibiotics messed up my system. And I have problems with sugar."

He made sure Corey knew what hard work was, so he would know not to spend a lifetime wearing out his body and instead get what his father calls a necktie job.

"That's what I always told him, 'You get an education so you ain't going to have to work like I have. Learn how to run computers,' " Ellis said.

"I'm just so proud of him."

The fathers of Noah, Green and Horford are no less proud, but they cannot be as amazed at what their sons have done.

"I think all these guys love their family, love their parents, appreciate and respect them," Florida Coach Billy Donovan said. "But I also think there's a part of them that they want to put down their own footprints in life, carve their own niche just as their parents have done.

"I think maybe there's pressure when you're 5, 6, 7, 8 years old, you're looking to kind of create your own identity, and it's 'oh, that's Sidney Green's son, Yannick Noah's son, Tito Horford's son.' Now it's, 'That's Joakim Noah, that's Taurean Green, and by the way, their dad is this person.' "

Nobody asks for Ellis Brewer's autograph, but "he's famous to me," Corey said.

Corey is well on his own way to being famous.

Noah is the glamorous one, but Brewer probably also has an NBA future. Only a sophomore, he is a swingman with three-point range and slashing ability, and he takes pride in playing defense too.

In December, he became the first player in Florida history to record a triple-double, with 15 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists against Jacksonville.

During the NCAA tournament, he has been the Gators' second-leading scorer after Noah, averaging 14.4 points and shooting 50% from three-point range (11 for 22).

He scored 23 points against Wisconsin Milwaukee in the second round, knocking down five three-pointers.

Against Georgetown in the Sweet 16, he scored only nine points. But with 27 seconds left, he sank a shot while being fouled and made the free throw to take Florida from down one to up two.

"If Corey Brewer hadn't hit that crazy jumper on the side, we might have lost to Georgetown," Noah said.

Brewer's father has seen that shot before.

"That old fall-away shot, he had to do that against his brother because he was bigger and he had to get around him," Ellis said.

The phone at the Brewers' house started ringing Saturday night, and kept ringing Sunday. Everybody wanted to know whether Ellis, who doesn't travel much, would make the trip to Indianapolis for the championship game against UCLA tonight.

"I don't fly," Ellis said. "I ain't getting off the ground. I think my chances are better in a car. But I've been thinking about it. If I can get somebody to drive me, I've done made up my mind. I'm going to show up."

It's about five hours by car to the RCA Dome from the driveway in Tennessee where Corey learned to play, shooting at an old wooden backboard until somebody gave the Brewers a nice breakaway rim, but it's a million miles in the mind.

For Ellis Brewer, it's the kind of ride that might do a man's heart good.

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