Photos by Hillary Ehlen and Russell Hons
Head women’s basketball coach Travis Brewster has formed a deep bond with his core group of six.
It all starts at the top. Whether it is in sports or any other profession, there is a trickle-down effect. What the head coach does in practice has an immediate impact on his assistants and his players. The same can be said for an athletic director or anyone in a position of leadership. For head women’s basketball coach Travis Brewster, his influence and impact on his team is not only seen on the floor, but in all phases of his player’s lives. However, there is not one person who best exemplifies it on North Dakota’s roster; there are six.
“The big thing about having six seniors is that they all have unique leadership skills. They are the ones that have gone through the rigors of playing, being in practice,” Brewster said of his seniors. “The other part, that’s most important to me, is that they’re just good people.”
Such good people that Brewster cannot help but pause and catch his breath when he begins talking about them. “There’s a lot of communication that happens and it’s dictated by them. When you say six seniors, I think of six young women who took a different step in life and they know how they want things to go,” he said. “With their communication being open, it’s pretty special, it doesn’t happen a lot. They’re a very unique group and it’s hard to really talk about them without getting choked up.”
It is that raw emotion when talking about his seniors that has paved the way to some unbelievable friendships between Brewster and his players, both on and off the court. Brewster believes these bonds are for life and he expects to be in contact with his seniors even after they move on at the end of the season.
“It’s pretty special. You start to learn more about them as a person. Everybody is so guarded now in society, to know each one of them is special, they’re just really neat people. When you get a chance to talk with them and hear about their plans for the future and find out how they’re going to go about it, just to see it and remember when they came in as freshmen or transfers, it’s pretty unique,” he said. “It’s one of those things that they’re always welcome to our house, we talk about a lot of different things that are not just basketball. That is how you get to this point, to have the relationships because they got lives outside of basketball and I understand that.”
Brewster, his wife Rebecca and their children have built a life in Grand Forks. While Brewster is in his seventh season as head coach, he was previously an assistant for nine seasons under then-coach Gene Roebuck. All in all, the Brewsters have spent nearly two decades in the community. Because of this, he has not only become a true player’s coach, but he is also one of the most beloved figures in UND athletics currently. Surely, much of that stems from the fantastic reputation he has with his past, current and even future players.
The big thing about having six seniors is that they all have unique leadership skills.
However, Brewster recognizes that basketball is not the be-all and end-all for these six young women. In his mind, it is more important to prepare these ladies for life after hoops, the “real” world as some may say. “All I ever told them was if they were going to play here for four to five years of your career, I look at it as you can utilize me for the next 40 or 50 years of your life,” he said. “To being a reference, to being a sounding board, to something serious where I need to come help. I know they’re all strong enough to move on and that’s the goal, to prep them for the real world and handle things without being here.”
That statement is remarkable. Truthfully, most collegiate coaches are concerned with winning basketball games and not their player’s futures. That is what sets Travis Brewster apart and it is part of what makes him a tremendous basketball coach. His players and others around the university would agree with that assessment as well.
Not to say Brewster has not been successful on the floor either. To this point, he has led North Dakota women’s basketball to some impressive new milestones. This includes an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2014 (the program’s first), a Women’s NIT bid two seasons ago, two Big Sky regular season crowns and two seasons of 20 wins or more. Coming into the 2018- 19 campaign, Brewster had already won 101 games at UND and was named Big Sky Coach of the Year twice.
Now, North Dakota basketball and Brewster see a shift as the team moves into the Summit League this season. Compared to the Big Sky, the Summit League plays a different brand of basketball. However, Brewster finds that the move should not provide too many growing pains for this experienced Fighting Hawks team.
“Some of it has been really good for us, it kind of plays into how we play. I think you look at a physical league and I think the other part of it is these women get a chance to play in the same time zone,” Brewster said. “You talk about the style of play, pace of play, it’s different because it’ll be a little more physical, but really it’s like bringing back the NCC. That’s pretty neat to have that and have our fans see that, playing another school down I-29, it’s pretty special. I’m more encouraged that the players get that experience, that they can feel that environment.”
While Brewster and the UND women’s basketball team will see plenty of new experiences this season, that is not Brewster’s end goal. Sure, he and the team want to win the Summit League and go to the NCAA Tournament. Beyond that, Travis Brewster wants his six seniors to become exemplary humans after they leave the University of North Dakota. Brewster may not want to admit it out of humility, but it seems as though he has succeeded in that goal.