Nov. 27, 2007
Washington State Athletic Media Relations
For many college basketball players, a trip to the NCAA Tournament can bring fond memories, but for Washington State forward Daven Harmeling his experience in last year's tournament gave him motivation, disappointment and a reason to write on his shoes.
In 2006-07, the Cougars tied a school record for wins in a season (26), finished second in the Pacific-10 Conference, and earned their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1994. The success of the team came as a surprise to many critics across the country who had picked WSU to finish 10th in the Pac-10.
A No. 3 seed in the East Region, the Cougars defeated Oral Roberts, 70-54, in the first round. Next up for Washington State was seventh seeded Vanderbilt, led by flashy guard Derrick Byars.
The game between the Cougars and the Commodores will be remembered by fans of both teams for many years to come, but no more than by Harmeling.
In a game that resulted in a WSU 78-74 double-overtime loss, Harmeling, then a sophomore, missed a 3-pointer from the right wing with the game tied at 60 and four seconds left in regulation, sending the game into overtime.
Although not the turning point of the game for the majority of Cougar fans and team members, Harmeling views his miss as the reason WSU was ousted from the tournament by Vanderbilt.
"I felt like that game was literally the lowest point of my life," Harmeling said. "As far as I'm concerned, I had a shot that could have won the game for us and I expected to make it...when it left my hand I felt like it was going in. When I look back at that game, the only thing I'm going to remember is that I missed the shot that could have won it for us."
For Harmeling, his missed shot was disappointing because he felt like he'd let his teammates and all the WSU supporters down.
"I think what makes me so disappointed about it is that, yes I wanted to make the shot, but it's not like I wanted to be the hero," Harmeling said. "I wanted it to go in for Dick Bennett so he could see us go to the Sweet 16. I wanted it to go in for Tony (Bennett) because he put me in at the end knowing I'd get that shot because he trusted in me. I wanted to make it because Kyle (Weaver) passed up the opportunity to drive or make a play for himself because he trusted in me.
"I wanted it to go in for everyone, for all the Cougar fans," Harmeling continued. "I didn't want it to go in for me, I just felt like I let a lot of people down by missing it. I don't know how they view it, but that's my take on it."
After two weeks of blaming himself for the Cougars' loss, Harmeling decided it was time to do something about it.
"I remember after the game I was just a wreck, thinking that I couldn't believe that had happened," Harmeling said. "I took it really hard."
"For two weeks after that game, for the first time in my life, I didn't care about a lot of things," Harmeling added. "After that initial kind of depression stage, it transferred into, `What am I going to do about it now?' and I started getting after it."
And get after it he did. He started by approaching his teammate Derrick Low with a method that would help him remember the game and use it as motivation. Harmeling asked Low, who's handwriting is more legible than Harmeling's, to write on his shoes: `Vandy 78, WSU 74; 3-17-07.'
"He puts a lot of the blame on himself when he shouldn't," Low said of his teammate. "He took a good shot, he had a good look, it just didn't drop. Not all shots are going to go in. That's just the kind of guy he is, he's competitive.
"Every time he's tired and he's looking down at his shoes and on his knees, he wants to see that score so that it will bring him back up and motivate him," Low added. "I wanted to help him do that."
The motivation kicked in quickly for Harmeling who vowed to work hard during the summer to prepare for the season. He enlisted the help of freshman Abe Lodwick and the two developed a summer workout program. The workout, which began after the duo got back from the team trip to Australia and New Zealand, consisted of the them getting up at 5 a.m. everyday, Monday-through-Friday, to workout for an hour and a half, on top of everything else they had going on each day.
"I had to do something to give myself the mental edge," Harmeling said. "I put myself through that voluntarily, so when it's mandatory stuff, we can really be able to do it. If we would have advanced to the Sweet 16, I can't honestly say that I would have put myself through that this summer."
Harmeling credits his teammates and his faith with helping him turn his disappointment into motivation.
"What helped me get through it were my teammates and my faith. We're so close-knit here. My faith had a big part of it, as far as me realizing that's not my identity and whether I made or missed that shot, that's not who I am. Being around Derrick, Kyle and Taylor, I remember specifically, I felt like we were on the same page. The more I was by myself, the more I thought about that shot and the worse it was for me. Thank goodness for my teammates or I may have stayed in that funk for a very long time."
This season, the expectations are set high for the Cougars as they are picked anywhere from seventh to 14th in the nation in many magazine and website preseason polls. The question for Harmeling and the Cougars is how will they handle the pressure?
"I think the pressure's there, but I don't think we feel it," Harmeling said. "We feel like we've been in so many situations...name any of our Pac-10 and NCAA Tournament games...we've been in pressure situations.
"We don't care what people think," continued Harmeling. "If we cared what they said about us last year, we wouldn't have even bothered playing because we were supposed to be terrible last year. It's good for the program and for recruiting to be ranked preseason, but we just laugh about it. We don't put much stock into that."
For Harmeling a trip to the Sweet 16 would help provide much needed closure for him, but his expectations for the team are much higher.
"I don't think I'll have any closure until we get to the Sweet 16," Harmeling said. "If we're in the same position and we get to the Sweet 16, then I would feel like I've made amends. Not that I would be satisfied just reaching the Sweet 16, I think this team's capable of so much more if we do things the right way and stay hungry."
If given the opportunity again, Harmeling would love to have the ball in his hands.
"Give me the ball, let me take another shot at it," Harmeling responded when asked what he would do if that same situation were to arise this season. "Hopefully we'll be in the tournament again, hopefully it won't have to come down to a final shot.
"Throughout my career I've always wanted that shot. I'm not saying that if I got it I would make it, but I know I want it again. I'd love to have that opportunity. I just cross my fingers and hope I get another chance. I trust my teammates whole heartily, but selfishly I want to get the crack at it."
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