The University of Puget Sound, located in Tacoma, Wash., is a private school with 2,800 students. It is one of the state's most expensive institutions to attend (tuition alone is $4,280 a year), and the campus is gorgeous—72 parklike acres situated alongside the Sound, deep in the shadow of Mt. Rainier. It's been around for some 93 years. Although Puget Sound won the 1976 NCAA Division II basketball championship, its teams have gotten little national attention.
Well, pay some to Eric and Kelly Brewe (the name rhymes with gooey). At the moment Eric is 15-3 Puget Sound's top scorer, and Kelly is the top scorer for the 11-4 AIAW Division III Lady Loggers. O.K., maybe even taken together, the Brewes aren't going to make folks forget Larry Bird. But in all of college basketball, nothing quite like the Brewes has ever happened before. Eric and Kelly, you see, are husband and wife.
To be sure, at 6'6" and 210 pounds—which he might weigh right after lunch—Eric is no Darryl Dawkins. And Kelly's knees look as if they have been through the wars. But while the Brewes might not excel on major-college teams, they are bona fide small-college stars.
As a sophomore two seasons ago, Eric led Puget in scoring. Last season he was second at 13.0 points per game, less than a point behind the leader. Last week, after putting in 38 points in victories over Central Washington and Western Washington, Eric boosted his 1981 scoring average to 18.0 points a game. The figure becomes more impressive when you consider that under Logger Coach Don Zech's fresh-man system, Eric plays only about 27 minutes a game. He's lefthanded and graceful, a 59% shooter from the floor. He also has Division I quickness, and from his spot at low post, Eric works Division II wonders.
Zech considers Eric's main strength his patience. "He'll hold back on a shot and draw a lot of fouls," says the coach. "And he shoots well from the line. So he's just about unstoppable with the ball near the basket one-on-one." Indeed, fully a third of Eric's 324 points this season have been scored from the foul line.
Off the court Eric looks casual, serene, almost as if he's beyond agitation. Critics say that that carries over to his play. Zech disagrees. "Eric's only problem," he says, "is that he looks so unwarlike."
By contrast, Kelly is a 5'7", 135-pound sophomore forward who flies up and down the court full tilt, 40 minutes a game—a comet trailing a tail of longish blonde hair. Her cheeks are rosy, her eyes afire. She wears a knee brace, plays a wing the way Sidney Wicks did at UCLA, and shoots back-spinning jumpers off the dribble, going either way. She also cans 16-footers as easily as she laces up her sneakers.
"I'm just naturally more aggressive than Eric," she says. "He has far more finesse and plays much smarter. If there's a loose ball and two guys are scrambling for it on the floor, Eric will watch, knowing that somewhere it's going to pop loose. Me, I just dive in."
Sports always came easy to Kelly. At grammar school in Seattle she excelled at track, cross-country and soccer. In ninth grade, she ran a 5:20 mile. In 1975, at the age of 14, Kelly and one of her girl friends used to ride a bus downtown and crash the gate at the Coliseum to watch the SuperSonics play. Soon she was hooked on basketball.
That summer Kelly attended a camp run by Slick Watts, who at the time was a SuperSonic guard and the biggest sports figure in Seattle. Slick and Kelly became friends. "We messed around a lot," she says. "Sometimes he'd take me to town in his van for an ice cream."
In the camp's windup one-on-one tournament, involving 100 girls, many of them older, Kelly advanced all the way to the finals. She's kept on advancing ever since. This season she has already scored 240 points in 15 games and is shooting 48% from the field and 72% from the foul line. Thanks mainly to Kelly, the Lady Loggers are off to their most promising start ever. "It would be much more fun," she says, "if everybody played with a bit more intensity."
Eric Brewe and Kelly Kranda met four years ago last September, in biology class at Shorecrest High in North Seattle. Eric was a senior, the top-scoring high school player in all of Washington and one of the very big men on campus. Also, he was tall, blond, blue-eyed. The girls flocked around.
Kelly was a newcomer, fresh out of Morgan Junior High. She was plucky and pretty, but young, even to Eric. At Shorecrest, Kelly eventually would play varsity basketball for three years straight and lead the team in scoring as a junior and senior. She would end up getting a basketball scholarship offer from the University of Washington, a Division I team. And she would agonize before turning it down to be with Eric in Tacoma. But that September, she thought mainly about Eric.
"I was a real smarty," she says. "I acted like I owned the school. How many times is a sophomore going to get dates with a big senior basketball star? The older girls wanted to tear out my hair. But I was pretty aggressive. I busted loose and went after my man." Indeed she did. In biology class, she moved her seat to be next to Eric. Kelly began dropping by his house more and more frequently. Once, when he was out of the lineup with an infected knee and feeling very low, Kelly picked him up in her father's car and took him to a movie.
"She was bright, offbeat funny and very cute," says Eric. That June, he took Kelly to his senior prom. Last September, he married her.
Today Eric and Kelly live off-campus in a $180-a-month, one-room apartment, pretty much on a shoestring. He has a full athletic scholarship, but hers is only partial. To fill the gap, they use their summer earnings and money borrowed from his parents. For additional income they referee intramural basketball, earning $4 apiece per game. In January they each worked 15 games. In the off-season, Kelly works as a waitress; Eric lays railroad tracks. So far they've bought a bed and, for $69, a 12-inch black-and-white TV. The family car is a 10-year-old Plymouth that has 110,000 miles on it and breaks down a lot. Cooking in the Brewe household is sketchy: she's a vegetarian fond of salads; for Eric she makes sandwiches and cooks the odd hamburger. The two of them are having the time of their lives.
"We compete against each other in little things all the time," Eric says. They will take a football to the park and hold a field-goal-kicking contest. Or they'll set up a soccer goal and try penalty shots, taking turns playing goalie and striker. They play cards together and go bowling. But they seldom practice basketball together.
"I've played against a lot of men, and it's a great way to improve," Kelly says. "But the truth is that men are too quick and too strong for women to match up. For instance, I'm taller than my dad and have much better skills. But every time we go out on a court, he just knocks me around."
The dilemma they have to face, of course, is that he is a senior and she is a sophomore. Come May, Eric graduates and the gig is up. They have just four more months. At the moment Eric is thinking about playing ball in an Australian national basketball league. Last summer the Loggers toured Australia, playing 20 games against the best teams there, and Eric impressed a lot of the coaches. Already one Aussie has offered Eric plane fare, help in finding a job and a spot on the roster. There's no pay, but Eric doesn't care. "I really don't want to settle down right after college," he says.
And Kelly? "So far it's always been me we've been thinking about," Eric says, "but I know she has a better chance than I do of making a living in basketball. The women's game is growing so fast, and Kelly's so good, she could earn good money playing or coaching. If my basketball days end and she has a chance to transfer and play major-college ball, I'd hook up with some firm and go to work."
Back at the apartment, Kelly is getting ready to leave for practice. She shunts aside the question of her own basketball future. "I'm young," she says. "I have plenty of time." And firmly: "It's more important now for Eric to get his chance. I never want him to think he missed an opportunity because of his wife." She shrugs. The rest of the season is still to be played.