HARMELING: Turning a loss into big picture W

AS WASHINGTON STATE (6-2) prepares for the hardcourt battle against Idaho (5-2) tonight and a chance to get back into the win column, they can be thankful for the drubbing they experienced at the hands of K-State this weekend. Yes you read that right, I did indeed say thankful.

Let me be clear -- I certainly didn't wish a 17 point beat down for the Cougs on Saturday night. Nothing about my "value the ball" mentality was happy to see them rack up 25, count ‘em, 25 turnovers against the Wildcats. However, I can say with complete certainty that what happened in Manhattan will be a good thing for the program overall.

In the interests of full disclosure, I didn't see the game. (It turns out that my "all-inclusive" sports package I added last month to ensure I got all the WSU games available falls at least one channel short of its guarantee). However, the benefits of this loss are based on my experience and the player reactions following the game.

Bear with me for a moment and turn back the clock to fall '04. In Stillwater, Okla., we got beat, by a lot. Ten minutes into the game against Okie State, I was 80 percent certain we were going to be held in single digits for the whole game.

Although there were countless lessons and memories from that game, the prevailing thought in my head afterward was, ‘They were GROWN men. I felt like a boy against them.' I can remember the look on Joey Graham's face as I was preparing to "guard" him. It was as if he was saying, 'Are you sure this is your right match-up?' Yep, Joey, it was.

AND I CAN ASSURE you nothing is more demoralizing to a player that feeling like you are completely out-manned for the duration of a game. Such was the case with our young Cougar team against OSU that year. And such was the case this past Saturday night.

Now, don't get me wrong, K-State is not the No. 4 ranked, bruising team we faced five years ago. But they're no slouch either and from what I understand, they were a pretty physical squad. In contrast, we have seven players on the roster under 200 pounds, and that doesn't include a few that are barely scratching 200 bills. K-State? Only two. And they have five players beefier than our beefiest, DeAngelo Casto.

Is that an excuse? Absolutely not. But it is an explanation. And most important, the point was hammered home to the players.

When I called a friend on the team on Saturday night, the first words out of his mouth were, "It felt like we were boys trying to play against grown men." And that resonated with me.

AND I'M SURE it would do the same with every other freshman on our team from '04. Because that game helped us -- it lit a fire for us in the weight room, made us scrap more, made us hungry, made us believe we were underdogs.

Take a year-by-year look at the team photos and you will see a noticeable size increase in virtually every player -- save for Robbie Cowgill perhaps, but I'm still sticking to my theory that he has a tapeworm.

Now, I understand that as players mature, they will gain weight and size even in the absence of hard work in the weight room. But the gains our team experienced blew those normal freshman-to-senior gains out of the water. I also know that the phrase "OK-State" was used by us on a regular basis for the following three years in the weight room and on the practice floor.

Anytime things got hard, those words conjured up feelings of embarrassment, of being out-manned, of feeling like a boy in a man's game.

SO WHEN MY friend followed up his initial statement by talking about how eager they all were to get back to work, lift harder, get better on the court -- I couldn't help but crack a smile. Because I know firsthand how powerful those feelings can be.

It might be a little unrealistic to think that in the short-term, this loss was good for the team. And believe me, if we are in a position to make a run at postseason play later on, this could end up being a costly loss on paper.

But I challenge you to look at the big picture here.

While the loss may have hurt you a bit as a fan, I know it hurt the players a whole lot -– and the end result will be like throwing gas on a fire.

I don't know about you, but a wildfire sure sounds a heck of a lot more dangerous than a brushfire.

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., running clinics for Dan Dickau Basketball, coaching high school ball, and working as a substitute teacher. He is writing a regular column for Cougfan.com this season.

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