With official recruiting visits in the college basketball world kicking off this week, I was reminded of my first encounter with Robbie back when we were wide-eyed prospects just entering our senior years in high school. He was from Austin, Texas, and I was from Grand Junction, Colorado.
I wasn't exactly secure with my 6-6, 165-pound frame and by my judgment, Rob didn't look an ounce over 165 even if he was dripping wet (and don't underestimate how much water his nest of hair can hold). I was strutting around in a shoulder sling and braces, which Rob frequently reminds me of. So to be fair, I imagine we were both pleased with our appearances compared to the other guy.
But as promised by Coach Tony, Robbie and I quickly struck up a friendship on the flight from SLC to Spokane. Conversation turned to poker, our faith, basketball, women (this being the shortest of the topics ... remember the braces?), and of course our respective weights.
"I'm gonna call Tony and act like we're furious," he said.
I have to admit I was a bit nervous going along with this little prank, but Rob quickly assured me this was the best -- and certainly most entertaining -- course of action.
This was the first time I saw his amazing ability to ad-lib -- a talent which was put to the test the following year during a communications class we shared; we had a contest to see who could prepare the least, and get the higher grade, for these seven-minute speeches we had to deliever. But I digress.
Back at the airport, I don't recall Rob's exact words on the phone, but I imagine that Tony was pretty convinced there was nothing he was going to be able to do over the next 48 hours to make amends for being tardy on the pick up. It turns out a speeding ticket on the way up from Pullman was the cause of Tony's delay. Once he and coach Burns arrived, Rob and I played it out for a couple minutes before exploding in laughter.
I don't recall Tony's reaction but we must have pulled it off -- either that, or he was so desperate for players he still took us.
The next highlight of the trip came as we were sitting down at a pizza joint. As is often the case around Cowgill, the topic quickly shifted to his weight. Tony asked us how the scales were tipping. Following a brief hesitation and a swift kick to my shin under the table, Rob announced that he weighed "around 180-185." I quickly did the math but was unable to figure out how Rob was able to gain 20 pounds between Salt Lake and the Palouse.
Later, at the Holiday Inn Express, Rob and I decided to check out the amenities, which led us to the hot tub ... by ourselves (see braces/toothpick). As we waited for Derrick Low and Chris Henry to arrive (they were on later flights), Rob and I began talking about WSU and how sweet it would be to help turn the program around. Both of us fell in love with the idea of playing in the Pac-10 and being taught by Dick and Tony Bennett. Looking back, I think we both became Cougars in our hearts that first night in Pullman.
As we started our careers the following summer, of 2004, Rob taught me quite a bit, most of which centered on learning how to beat the system when it came to weigh-in days:
That summer, Rob and I played poker nearly every night. Remember how Tony told me Rob was smart? Well, the guy is a mastermind. I'm pretty sure I could use one hand to count the number of times I've beaten him at poker heads-up. And we've played A LOT of poker. You think I would have learned, but I was convinced he was getting a lucky streak of cards -- a streak that ended up lasting the better part of four years. I guess that's what happens when my poker ego collides with a guy who had college credits before he even stepped foot on campus and later graduated from WSU's Honor's College.
Robbie and I have hung up our high tops, but the crimson memories we collected -- starting with that recruiting trip six years ago -- will fuel us for a lifetime.
So this fall, if you're in the Pullman Holiday Inn Express and you spot some awkward looking young bucks looking around for the hot tub, you just might be looking at the next Harmeling and Cowgill. And, if they're not 165 pounds and wearing braces, you might be looking at the next Low and Weaver. Let the recruiting begin!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Daven Harmeling was a mainstay on the Washington State basketball team – and a fixture on the Pac-10 All-Academic team – during the most successful three-year stretch in Cougar history. Part of Dick Bennett's stellar recruiting class of 2004, this Grand Junction, Colo., product completed his eligibility last season and now is in Vancouver, Wash., fulfilling student teaching requirements. He will be writing a regular column for Cougfan.com this season.