Drake women’s hoops great will fight brain cancer to the final whistle

A black-and-white picture hangs in my living room. The photo is almost 25 years old now. A student photographer took the picture at media day for the Drake women’s basketball team in 1996.

We took a standard team photo, with everyone in rows and serious. For fun, I suggested they pose like it was for their high school yearbook. They leaned on each other, laughed, and smiled. They were all strong, powerful young women, but with just a hint of girl left in them.

I covered the women’s team from 1995 to 1997. I kept covering the team even when I became the campus newspaper editor. Rank has its privileges, and covering Drake women’s basketball was a great privilege.

I used to wear a coat and tie to every game. I didn’t have to. Not even Register ace sports writer Jane Burns dressed up for the games. I did it to show respect for the coaches and players.

They’ll never know how much joy they provided me in those harrowing and uncertain days before I became fully cooked as an adult.

I did not know it then, but those would be the best of times in journalism.

I would become a better craftsman as the years went on. I stacked my paragraphs with care. I covered many things and held many jobs, from night cops reporter to columnist.

But never did my beat involve such a wonderful collection of people. I looked forward to seeing them every day.

I’ve been looking at that photo a lot these days.

I focus on a lanky girl from Hubbard with a perm and a smile as wide as the court.

Her name is Lisa Brinkmeyer VanDeventer.

We all knew her as just “Brink” back then.

Brink led Hubbard-Radcliffe Rebels to the 6-on-6 championship in 1993.

She was the last girl to be ever named Miss Iowa Basketball for 6-on-6. The state retired the game after the 1992-93 season.

The knock on 6-on-6 ball was that Iowa girls didn’t get as many college scholarships because they didn’t play full court.

That didn’t bother Lisa Bluder, then Drake’s coach and now Iowa’s coach.

Bluder recruited Brink, who was the centerpiece of some excellent Bulldog teams in the late 1990s.

Brink led the Bulldogs to two conference titles in three seasons. She wasn’t always the top scorer or rebounder, though she often was.

Brink was the kind of player who had a way of sneaking up and turning a game around.

Maybe she dove for a loose ball, careening into the scorer’s table. Maybe she snuck her hand around an opposing player’s back and popped lose a steal.

Maybe she fired up her team with her passion for the game.

And perhaps more often than anything, she cracked up her teammates and coaches in the rare moments she took a breather on the bench.

Brink gave the game everything and it took a toll. She tore her ACL twice, the last time blighting her fifth and final year at Drake.

She coached alongside Bluder at Iowa for a while. Then she came back to Des Moines. These days she’s a bigwig with the Iowa Girls Athletic Union.

I’ve been looking at that old photo a lot these days.

Brink has brain cancer.

She’s fighting it, fierce as ever, but who can say how it is going to go?

Brink defines life.

It shines from her.

Brink married a world-class guy, Ted. They have kids about the same age as my students.

Brink and I are the same age. I wish I could give a chunk of whatever years I have left, and guarantee her more time with everything.

The world is just better with Brink in it.

Life doesn’t work that way, of course.

Life is the most brutal game there is. And you never know how much time is left on the clock.

You just got to keep going.

If there ever was a person who played hard to the final whistle, it is and shall always be my friend Lisa Brinkmeyer.

To make a donation to help Ted and Lisa cover expenses and medical costs for Lisa’s treatments, visit: https://www.ignition.ink/brinks-bench.

Middle school teacher Daniel P. Finney is a Marion County Express columnist.

Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
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