Like most basketball stars, Debbie Brock stands out in a crowd. The only difference is that for her, the cliché goes, “How’s the weather down there?”
Debbie is, at 4’11” and 84 pounds, not much bigger than one of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s kneepads. She is also the most exciting player on the best team in women’s college basketball, Delta State University of Cleveland, Miss. The school has won the national championship three straight years.
“It’s hard for other players to keep up with me,” drawls Brock, 21, “because it’s hard for them to find me.” That’s why an opponent, frustrated by Brock’s harassment on defense and her playmaking on offense, once sputtered, “Next year we’ll bring a fly-swatter.”
For the first three years of her college career Brock was teamed with Lusia Harris—a 6’3″ center-forward so good she was drafted semiseriously by the New Orleans Jazz when she graduated last year. Delta’s Lady Statesmen won 109 of their 115 games. Now the team’s fate rests largely on Debbie’s slim shoulders.
That’s no small burden at a school where the women’s team outdraws the men’s 10 to one. Brock seems able to manage. She has been attracting attention on basketball courts since she was a 7-year-old in Jackson, putting on dribbling exhibitions at halftime at Forest Hill High School games.
Her father coached Forest Hill then; now he’s a junior high principal and out of coaching, but he worked with Debbie to improve her outside shot during the Thanksgiving break. She began playing organized basketball in seventh grade, and part of her training was to watch boys’ games. “You learned what not to do that way,” she teases.
Since 1969 women have played men’s rules—except that they must shoot within 30 seconds of gaining possession—and there are now close to 800 colleges with women’s basketball teams, three times the number in 1971. By the time Debbie graduated from high school, Delta State was in the recruiting business, though she did not get a full scholarship until this year.
Her favorite pro player is New Orleans’ 6’5″ Pete Maravich, “because he is a ball handler,” but she says she also watches the smaller players like Calvin Murphy, the 5’9″ guard for the Houston Rockets. While her own game centers on defense and passing, in last year’s national championship she scored 22 points as Delta State beat Louisiana State 68-55. Coach Margaret Wade says that, astoundingly for such a small player, Debbie “just cleans up on rebounds.”
While Debbie’s steady date is John Chrestman, a 6’3″ former Delta State player and now a high school coach, they confine their one-on-one games to Ping-Pong. “Women can’t compete effectively against men in basketball because the men’s game is more physical,” she says. “But there should be two separate programs and they both should be strong.”
Women’s national professional basketball does not exist, so Debbie plans to teach elementary school next year. At the moment she and the rest of the Delta State team are preparing for a holiday tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York. The prospect does not awe her. “Madison Square Garden?” Debbie says. “It’s like any other gym, just a bit bigger.”