Anchorage — Alex Brewster starred in basketball for South High and twice played in the community college national championship game as a key contributor for Yakima (Wash.) Community College. After that, at age 20, she decided she was done with basketball.
She moved on to rugby and, more significantly, pre-med studies at UAA, where she intends to complete the undergraduate degree she started in Yakima.
"I figured I'd get a job, live at home and focus on school," Brewster said. "That was the plan, until I got a call from Coach McCarthy."
That would be Ryan McCarthy, the first-year coach for the UAA women's basketball team. McCarthy was a last-minute hire who took over a team that had lost several players from the previous season. With the timing of things limiting his options, McCarthy decided to hold a tryout to see if he could find any players on campus who could round out his roster.
Brewster knew about all that, but she was sticking to her plan.
"I knew they were having open tryouts but I decided not to bother with it," she said. "I'm taking 14 credits and they're all tough classes. But it kept coming up, and then Coach McCarthy called me. So I thought, maybe I should go for it."
A 5-foot-11 junior, Brewster went to the tryout, which essentially involved practicing with the Seawolves. She played hard on defense, went after loose balls and scrambled for rebounds.
Afterwards, McCarthy invited her to join the team as a walk-on. She'll be in green and gold this week for the Shootout, something she never dreamed.
"When you have a mind-set that you're done with your career and then you're given another chance -- it just remotivates you," Brewster said. "It feels like a gift."
At South, Brewster was a third-team all-state player as a senior. At Yakima, she was one of the first players off the bench and worth about three points and four rebounds a game.
At UAA, Brewster is a bench player, to be sure, one who has logged only one minute in two games. She gives McCarthy 11 players, and on a young team that includes three freshmen, she comes with the added attraction of knowing how to juggle school and sports at the college level.
"The bottom line for Alex is she's played in college before, so she understands the time commitment," McCarthy said.
She surely shouldn't present a problem academically, even with a class load that includes physics, calculus, organic chemistry and cell biology. Brewster carries a 3.5 grade-point-average, although she said she'd feel better about her post-graduate plans if her GPA was 3.6 or higher. She hopes to attend the WAMI medical school program.
"This is what I've been doing my whole life, balancing academics and athletics," she said. "It's easier for me to have that pressure -- you know you have a limited amount of time to get things done so you do it.
"But this is the toughest year I've had. The classes are harder."
So far, basketball has been a release from the pressures of schoolwork. "It's an outlet for me," she said.
Brewster said the game at the Division II level is more demanding than anything she experienced at Yakima or in high school. There's an entire roster of talented players, not just a handful, and the competition at practice is fiercer. Her role is different than anything she has taken on before, and she accepts that.
"In high school, I was the go-to player and I was expected to score and do a lot -- I was the captain and the leader," she said. "At Yakima I was less of a scoring threat but big on defense. Here, I don't feel any pressure except to give it my all every time I'm on the floor -- sprint, box out, rebound every loose ball.
"I'm never going to be a player who's gonna try to go one-on-one. My job is to support my teammates, and when I get on the floor go my hardest."
Should she get time on the Sullivan Arena floor this week, she will cherish it.
Brewster grew up in Anchorage watching the Shootout and watching the Seawolves become a Division II power. She was a sophomore at South the year that Sylvia Bullock was a senior, and she watched with pride and interest last season when Bullock's Miami team claimed the Shootout championship. She played against Utah State's Jenna Johnson of Wasilla in high school and could get a chance to play against her again this week.
"All of these players who I really looked up to in high school, to think that I'm going to be on the same stage is definitely incredible and definitely a privilege," Brewster said. "...I never expected to be playing at this level or with such a prestigious program. I didn't expect myself to be here, but I am so thankful for the opportunity."
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.