Arkansas looks to replace Brewer after jump to NBA

Last Friday, Arkansas junior guard Ronnie Brewer announced that he was leaving school early and making himself available for the NBA Draft in June. This came as a surprise to few, as it had been widely rumored all year that Brewer make the jump to the NBA before his senior season.


By not immediately signing with an agent, Brewer left open the possibility that he could return to school if he does not perform well in the pre-draft camps organized by the NBA, and therefore sees his stock plummet. As it stands now, most draft followers have Brewer going in the first 20 picks, which would make him an instant millionaire. It’s hard to imagine many people turning down such an opportunity, and it’s doubtful that Brewer will. 

On the day he announced he was leaving school, his father and Arkansas basketball icon Ron Brewer Sr., made comments that some interpreted as a criticism of Arkansas coach Stan Heath. Brewer Sr. said of his son: “He’ll be a better pro player than college player because college never took advantage of what he brought to the table. I spotted this from Ronnie when I realized that they could put him in a system on the wing, one dribble he’s going to [beat the defender]. Not in college but in the pros he’s going to dominate. We never took advantage of this at Arkansas.”


Rather than harsh criticism of a college coach, this seems more like an effort by a father to enhance his son’s draft stock, as well as a recognition from a former NBA player that the NBA is a different game than college ball. Although it would certainly not be unheard of for a father to question the way his son was used by his coach. Particularly a father who coached his son growing up and has played basketball at every level. But whatever the elder Brewer’s intentions, Ronnie got his shots last year, both off the dribble and from the wing.

But the question on most Arkansas fans’ minds is what effect Ronnie’s departure will have on the team. Heath has never been fully embraced by the Arkansas faithful. He’s not a home town boy like the football coach, and had no connection to Arkansas before being hired.  Heck, he looked lost on the day he was introduced as the new head coach when Frank Broyles and John White busted out a hog call.


So some wonder if Heath can do his job without having the team’s best player for the last three seasons around for a fourth. Or perhaps more accurately stated, who was responsible for the Razorbacks steady improvement for the last three years, Heath or Brewer?

This year we’ll find out. Brewer’s absence will be felt, and Arkansas also lost three seniors, Jonathan Modica, Eric Ferguson and Dontell Jefferson. However, they add two highly regarded shooting guards in Patrick Beverley and Stefan Welsh, a true point guard in Mississippi State transfer Gary Ervin, as well as Sonny Weems from the junior college ranks. Michael Washington is a Top 30 player if he finds his way to campus through the academic issues that have hovered around him.

For those wondering if Arkansas will be worse next year, ask yourself if you would trade Brewer, Modica, Ferguson and Jefferson for Beverley, Welsh, Ervin, Weems and Washington.  The answer to that question is yes, and that’s the reason that Arkansas will be better by season’s end next year.  And that doesn’t take into account any improvement from current players on the team.

Although there is reason for optimism even with Brewer’s departure, there is also a troubling trend developing among athletes, coming from both the football and basketball programs, at the University of Arkansas. That is, it seems that every time there a chance for one to go pro, he does. Sometimes even when it very clearly isn’t in their best interest to do so. Examples include Olu Famutimi, Lawrence Richardson and Jason Peters, all who went undrafted.


Meanwhile, at schools like Florida, where at least three first round picks played, including the possible number one pick in Joakim Noah, all decided to stay. (Obviously, Florida has had its share of boneheaded early departures. But they’ve also had some who shunned sure money to stay in school, something difficult to say about former Hogs).

Therefore, the question we should be asking is not whether Arkansas basketball can survive the loss of Ronnie Brewer. The more fundamental question is what is Arkansas doing to ensure that its student athletes enjoy a rewarding college experience, both inside the classroom and in the larger community of students.

J.R. and Henry, tired of the same ‘ol song and dance of the regular statewide daily columns, are blogging this sports column every Wednesday and Saturday on Little Rocking.