As Christmas draws near, I keep thinking back to how I spent the last several Christmas' in Pullman. And while Christmas away from family may sound like punishment, at some point my teammates became my family.
I can remember calling home on Christmas morning my redshirt sophomore year. Toward the end of the conversation as the phone was being passed around, my mom said "I really wish you could be here with your family." My response: "Mom, I love you guys, but I am with my family."
So what got me to that point? Without question, it's the ups and downs. The exhilaration of victory, the agony of defeat, and the tie that is forged going through that roller coaster with 12 other players with a common goal. But what really makes a team close are the little things.
Year-round, we spent a lot of time together -- between workouts and living together. But during Christmas break, there is nobody in Pullman. Which means even more time together. And you'd be surprised how creative we could get celebrating it all in our own, unique ways. A few highlights:
But c'mon, we estimated we saved 15 dollars each per month- totally worth it. And when I say totally worth it, I mean in hindsight it was probably the worst decision we ever made. You'd think with the money saved, we would have stocked the fridge; I can promise if you ever set foot in our apartment last winter looking for a meal your options were Tillamook Baby Loaf Cheese or Mountain Dew.
And I can't quite explain why practice on Christmas morning is fun, but here's my best guess. Looking each other in the eye in the midst of a hard drill and without saying a word, knowing that what you're thinking is exactly what they're thinking: "Are we really doing this right now? Are we seriously spending 10 minutes on close-outs on Christmas morning? This is nuts. But so are you. And you're the reason why I'm gonna go all out right now. Because to get to where we need to be, you need me to scrap like my hair's on fire, and I need the same from you. So yes, we are doing this. So yes, this is worth it. And no, I wouldn't wanna be anywhere else right now, and I can tell you wouldn't either. So let;s get after it. And hope coach doesn't ask about the orange peels."
Now, what does all this have to do with the 10-2, new look Cougs? Well, I guess I'm just a fan now but I can't help but wanting the best for these guys. I'm as proud as anyone that they beat LSU the other night in Seattle. But I hope they pranked each other in the hotel after the game. I hope they snagged a freshman's room key and took care of their business in the rook's bathroom. I hope someone received a call at 3:30 simply to say, "this is your 3:30am wake-up call; breakfast is in 5 hours. "And after they get back to Pullman, I hope someone finds their car buried under a pile of snow. Now don't get me wrong, I am vehemently against violent or indecent hazing. But a snowball here or there can't hurt right?
So as thrilled as I am with the Cougs' season so far, I hope they're enjoying the ride- not the attention from the success, but instead enjoying the camaraderie that they may not even understand right now.
And if they're not, I might have to trek across the state with a bag of oranges and a box of firecrackers so they can really understand what being a family is all about.
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.