Many athletes overcome incredible adversity to enjoy successful professional careers. Former Oklahoma Sooner standout and 1998 NBA Draft 2nd Round Draft Pick, Corey Brewer, learned in childhood that hard work and focus were the two tools he’d need to beat the odds. After being selected to the Under-22 USA Basketball team in 1997, Brewer spent over a decade excelling in basketball internationally – with many crediting his success to his work ethic. Read on for his insight into the importance of a young athlete’s support system, professional team, and what’s missing in today’s athletic programs!
Corey Brewer is not your typical basketball star. The West Memphis native was driven by a sense of purpose even at a young age. He knew early on that basketball was his ticket to a better life. Talent gave him access to his dreams but hard work gave him staying power. Brewer shares his keys to success as well as the importance of surrounding oneself with the right support system.
TAN: “Corey, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to our readers. How did your high school (West Memphis High School) career prepare you for your professional journey?”
CB: “When I was playing professionally, I would always think back to sitting in my backyard on 25th Street in West Memphis. It would inspire me to stay focused. When all else failed, I could fall back on my ability to work hard and believe in whatever I did. I never watched what everyone else was doing. Being from a small town where so many things could go wrong, it gave me tunnel vision. It helped me realize early on that I had to be focused to reach my goals.
Growing up in West Memphis made the transition from a college player to a pro player easier. I had discipline. I lost my father at age 11. At the age of 15, I was shot. My entire focus was to be able to get out of West Memphis. But I wanted to do it differently than any other player before me, so I could leave my footprints. So, other kids could say, “Look how Corey did it.” “Look at the way he did it.” All based on work ethic. Early on, I had a clear sense of priority.”
TAN: “Having faced death with loss of your father and your own mortality at an early age, it gave you a laser-like focus that other children didn’t have. Would you say you had a sense of urgency?”
CB: “Exactly! When I lost my father I just sat there and I was in shock. I didn’t cry. Not because I didn’t love my father, I loved him very much. It was more of the realization that I needed to do something to completely change my life, my future. It gave me a different type of motivation when I played at home in high school. I think people didn’t understood why I pushed so hard. Mentally, where I was at the time, I felt I had something to prove.”
TAN: “Your hard work paid off and you were a stand-out in high school. What made you choose to attend Junior College in Oklahoma, then the Oklahoma Sooners?”
CB: “I could have attended Arkansas, Memphis, or Cincinnati, any of the big schools. I grew to love the support system I had formed in Oklahoma. It felt like a family thing. Many of my family members wanted me to play for Memphis, but Oklahoma was a great fit. It was the right coach, the right fit, the right situation for me. That’s what led to my overall success. The decision making at that point was critical. I surrounded myself with a lot of good people who truly cared about me and made sure that I was good. I had coaches and assistant coaches that I was willing to run through the wall for. They were truly family.
TAN: “Will you share from your personal experience how vital it is for an athlete to choose the right supporting cast; whether it be family members, coaches, mentors, agents, etc.?”
CB: “Absolutely, it’s a key part of your success! In the beginning, it was my stepdad Sanders Smith and my uncle Sam Greer…if I had those guys in my corner, I felt like I could do anything. I knew that they had my back one hundred percent. Neither played basketball, but they both gave the best advice. I was fortunate to find people just like them in Oklahoma. I felt protected and supported.”
TAN:” Beyond your personal support team, how was the process of finding a professional team? What was your criteria?”
CB: “My first agent was Johnnie Cochran. Johnnie was a stand-up guy. There was another guy working with him as well, and they were working with athletes to make sure they knew exactly what they needed to do to take care of themselves. I trusted those guys a lot and they did great things for me. But ultimately, it’s a tough a decision. It’s as important as picking the right school. It can make or break your career and future. When choosing an agent, you must pick one that can keep you employed year in and year out as well as doing the best thing for YOU. It helps if they care about you on a personal level. When I made the transition from my American agents to my European agent, I really felt a sense of family again. We could talk about anything and I felt he had my best interest at heart. It was a great experience. I felt connected. It was less about basketball and more about making sure I taken care of.”
TAN: “Speaking of your experience in the European competition, what was the most difficult thing about playing overseas?
CB: “Being away from my family and more specifically my kids. I think it would have been beneficial to them to learn firsthand about other cultures.”
TAN: “With all your experiences and talents, what have you been doing with yourself post-basketball and what do you have planned for the future?”
CB: “I have been successful as a car sales-person, because I am able to relate to various types of people. As far as giving back to the community, I am looking to coach in the future. I think I could really help young people learn from my experiences and address some of the issues younger athletes face.”
TAN: “What do you feel is the biggest issue facing young athletes today?”
CB: “I think it’s the whole, ‘superstar culture.’ Teams and coaches tend to focus on the player who has the most talent, is the team star. Which isn’t beneficial for all the players. The ones who tend to have the most staying power and longevity are the ones who work the hardest. Some players who weren’t stars do well professionally, because they adapt and are coachable. We need to focus more on the entire team and strive to give them all better options for the future.”
We know Brewer will be using his talents and insights in the future to help student-athletes in his hometown and beyond. We are looking forward to seeing you touch lives, CB!
By LaToya Baker of The Athlete’s NeXus