FAYETTEVILLE – On a crisp October Saturday morning, the 6’7” Ronnie Brewer, Jr. stands above the mass of humanity around him at the southwest corner of Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Smiling, the 30-year-old local basketball legend greets one group of fans after another as they head into the stadium to see the Hogs play Auburn. Every minute, it seems, someone new approaches with hands outstretched. Brewer is every bit in his element.
This is the community and the alma mater he feels help propel him to the success he achieved in the last decade: an honorable mention All-American honor to cap a stellar three-year run as a Razorback, a 2006 NBA Draft selection at No. 14 overall and then an eight-year run in the League that Brewer is still training hard to continue.
As of late October, Brewer had not played in the NBA since a short stint with the Bulls in spring 2014. Still, he’s stayed plenty busy. Brewer runs an annual local youth basketball camp and he and his father Ron – also a former Razorback basketball legend – check in with the current Razorback basketball team and staff almost every day. He returned to the classroom and finished his bachelor’s degree last May.
And he’s been giving back.
Through his non-profit foundation, Ronnie Brewer donated $100,000 to the Donald W. Reynolds Boys & Girls Club in Fayetteville he says was vital to his early years. Brewer credits that club, now located west of Interstate 49 and the UA campus, with helping him find a home as a young child after moving to Fayetteville from Portland where Ron had played for the Trailblazers. “I’d say at least 60% of the of the people I know in Fayetteville to this day have some kind of connection” to that club, Ronnie says. Through basketball, sure, but also through other activities like art, flag football and soccer.
To honor Brewer’s contribution, the club named the court of a recently opened gym and teen life center building after him. The court entrance showcases his name and a cartoon logo of Brewer depicting him in mid-crossover. When Brewer first saw the honor, “it made very excited” he recalls. “It made me feel really proud that even when I’m not around on this earth that that legacy can still be here.”
The Ronnie Brewer Foundation has been a family affair since it started more than seven years ago. Brewer’s parents help run it along with his sister, Candice Graham. Over the years, they have given away turkeys, toys, coats, backpacks, air conditioners, toys and more to families in need across northwest Arkansas.
Many current and former Razorback basketball players have volunteered at events run by Brewer’s foundation. During his summer basketball camp, for example, Anton Beard, Keaton Miles and Moses Kingsley all helped. Others such as Kikko Haydar and Fred Gulley, who like Brewer had starred at Fayetteville High School, would “volunteer their time with different things I had going on, just to show they supported me and they supported what I was doing in the community.”
Ronnie’s mother Carolyn Brewer, who grew up in the poor town of Ogden outside of Texarkana, says she stressed generosity. “I tried to teach my children ‘Whatever you have, share it, because God gives back to you.”
Carolyn also emphasized finishing college.
Her son put off finishing his degree in sports journalism since he left a season early for the pros. But he’d made a promise to finish it, and used his off year as a chance to finally do it. “The reason why I came back is I couldn’t look my daughter in the eye – or my mom and dad, nieces and nephews and people around – and tell them honestly ‘Hey, it’s important to go back to school. It’s important to focus in school’ when I didn’t have a degree of my own.”
Back in school Brewer found himself in a unique position: He took classes in a journalism department to which he had donated $50,000 for a scholarship fund years earlier. “I know a lot of people in Arkansas who’d die to come to the [University] of Arkansas, and sometimes they can’t or when do they do they’re struggling” financially, he says. “It’s major if you can help somebody else just a little bit.”
So, did that donation mean Brewer expected to get an “A” in all his classes?
“Yeah, that’s what a lot of my professors kind of joked about,” he says, chuckling. “They were like ‘Oh, you donated that because you knew you were going to come back, since you made a promise to your mom, and you didn’t want us to be too harsh on you.’
“I was like ‘No, honestly, I didn’t even know when I was going to come back.”
As of late October, Brewer was still back in Fayetteville, still mentoring basketball players while helping lay the financial foundation for the next phase of his life. He says he’s partnered with astute businessmen friends in the area to make “low risk” investments to ensure the millions he made in the NBA don’t disappear.
At this point he’s still too invested in his playing career, which may resume in the NBA, the NBDL (NBA’s minor league) or abroad, to know exactly how he’ll use his wealth, his degree and vast personal network down the line.
But it’s a fair bet whatever the future holds for Ronnie Brewer, it will involve his beloved alma mater and the northwest Arkansas community at large.