HARMELING: The final curtain

A LITTLE OVER four years ago a mop-topped, enthusiastic, boyish-looking teammate spun around on the revolving chair in the WSU basketball office, looked me in my eyes and said, "I can't wait ‘til I hit the game winner someday!" And lo and behold, last year around this time, Cougar fans around the country had special reason to jump to their feet on Senior Night.

My gut reaction four years ago, and I think yours would have been the same, was that the kid was a little cocky. He had never even played in a Pac-10 game at the time. As any good friend would, I pointed this out but as if sensing my disgust at his apparent cockiness, he told me I clearly didn't understand why he so desired his game-winning moment.

"Man, just think about how happy the fans would be! People go nuts for game-winners! And to think about the Cougar Nation on their feet…it'd be for them! It wouldn't even be about me…I just want to give them that moment," he said.

Well, who can forget Taylor Rochestie's game winning three, hoisted from just outside of Colfax, against the Sun Devils?

I never will. He never will. Nobody who was inside Beasley ever will. I guess you were right, Taylor. You gave them that moment.

ON SATURDAY NIGHT, against the UW, Nikola Koprivica will play his last regular-season game for the Cougars at Beasley Coliseum, and quite possibly his last home game ever in a Cougar uniform.

With two more wins, Nik will stand alone as the winningest Cougar basketballer of all time. For the record, Nik's 85 wins is five more than I had.

He will be introduced, applauded, congratulated and recognized on Saturday. I'm assuming family members will be there. The fans will give him a standing ovation. He'll certainly be emotional, maybe even shed a tear or two. As the scene unfolds, you might get the impression that Senior Night is about him. But you know what?

To every senior who finally plays his last game at Friel Court, that night is not about them. Sure, it's an emotional time to reflect on the memories at Beasley, and how fast those years inevitably go by. But the perpetual will be about the relationships forged over their time at WSU.

Most are obvious - his teammates and coaches. Anytime you go through emotional highs and lows with a group of people chasing the same goal, friendships are created. That's a given.

But the relationship most likely to be overlooked on Saturday night is the one between the players and the fans.

YOU MEAN A lot to us. And I guarantee you mean a lot to Nik. I'm sure most of you have not gotten the chance to meet Nik in person. But I can assure you that if given the chance, he would love to shake everyone's hand at Beasley and offer a "thank you", (or at least the Serbian equivalent, which is sure to ruin the moment. I can't refrain from taking a friendly jab at Nik. Four years of habits don't leave quickly.)

I hope you've had the chance to grow with Nik. I hope you were in Beasley when he tore his ACL his freshman season. I hope you got to peek into the training room to see his sweat and toil, as he rehabbed his knee in order to continue to play this game he loves.

I hope you were there the following year when he returned to the court. I hope you have been there for every one of his backdoor cuts. To those of you that have, I applaud you.

As players, we understand that every word uttered about us in the stands, especially if we're struggling, isn't always something we want to hear. But at the end of the day, you came to watch us play and for that we were always thankful.

JUST IMAGINE HOW much your support has meant to a guy that doesn't even call America home. Thousands of miles away from his native homeland -- but ironically, his family grew to thousands every game day.

I'm sure Nik will be feeling a little extra pressure to perform on Saturday night. As a Cougar fan and as his friend, I obviously hope the best for him in those efforts. Sometimes Senior Nights go well, and if the stars align and Nik somehow turns in a game winning Senior Day moment like Rochestie did last year, Beasley will explode.

Sometimes, though, Senior Nights turn out to be heartbreaking. The relationship he has with his teammates and coaches, though, won't turn on the outcome of Saturday's game. Regardless of his performance against the UW or how the final scoreboard reads Saturday night, he will be thankful for you, the Cougar fans at the game.

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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