HARMELING: Pac-10 Tourney has me jealous

I'M A BIT JEALOUS. Without question, one of the most fun weeks of the hoops season is the trip to L.A. for the Pac-10 Tournament. It's a unique experience, and despite the complaints about the location not rotating, the league definitely got a lot of things right with this. As I reflect on my basketball career, though, one of the biggest disappointments was not playing in the tourney's title game.

Despite the many successes of our Cougar teams in recent years, we never made a legitimate run at winning the conference tournament. This is something that fans hardly ever talk about, but our team desperately wanted it.

This year's Cougars didn't accomplish what they set out to do this season, but you know what? They have a chance to do something we never did when we were piling up 26 wins a season. They have a chance to make a run at the tournament title.

Is that more important than a regular-season championship? Not in my opinion. But how many Coug fans could look back at this season and say, "Man, what a disappointment -- all we got was the Pac-10 Tournament Championship and an automatic bid to the Big Dance."

Nobody in their right mind would say that. I know our guys don't need another reminder but here it is anyway: Fellas, you've still got something to play for. Want to make you mark – PERMANENTLY -- in the history books at WSU?

Then get it together for four days and you're there.

Look, I'll be very honest. If the effort level of late stays where it's been at for Wednesday's 8 pm tip against Oregon (FSN), the Cougs will be coming home before the rest of the teams have their pre-game meal on Thursday. I'm not sure how much fight they have left in them. I really don't. I know I'm hearing verbally that they do. But I'm watching the same games you are.

But if they're not amped an extra notch to be in L.A., then I'll tell you flat out they have to be brain dead. The beauty of a tournament like this is that all dreams are still possible.

And the setting for it all is fabulous. The Staples Center is a grand edifice. Sure, the seats don't sell out and there are mostly USC and UCLA fans on hand, but this is a great building to be in.

It's also nice to get outside and soak up some sun.

The hotel accommodations are also first class. The downtown Marriott, just blocks away from Staples, serves as the hub for all the teams. And believe me, the hotel goes all out in welcoming players and fans alike. The enormous lobby is decked out in Pac-10 Tournament decorations, and each team is assigned to a different floor. Yes, this leads to many awkward elevator rides with some guys you're not too fond of. But then again, it provides a chance to get to know some of the other guys off the court that you actually respect. An incomplete list of names you would recognize that are actually really cool, down-to-earth, respectful human beings include Chase Budinger, the Lopez twins, Patrick Christopher, Jerome Randle, Jon Brockman, Jeff Pendergraph, Jordan Hill, Dwight Lewis, Mbah A Moute and Marty Leunen. If you bumped into any of these guys in the lobby they'd gladly shake a hand, take a picture, and probably even chat it up a bit.

Another highlight of the Pac-10 Tourney for me was the gifts. Yep, the Pac-10 gave every player a gift for being in the tournament. Over five years, here's the rake I got: 2 iPods, Bose Head phones, Garmin GPS, Bose Sound Dock, and a digital camera/printer combo.

Not too shabby, eh? It is safe to safe that Pac-10 tourney gifts were more lucrative than Christmas for me.

So you can probably imagine my interest over the gifts the players got this year. So much so, that I had to give one of the guys a call and find out just what I was missing out on.

It is with a strange blend of entertainment, excitement, and disappointment that I report to you that the Pac-10 is not giving the players any gifts this year. Look, I'm not saying we ever deserved them, but it does appear that I got out of the game just in time.

When my friend told me, I exploded in laughter. He was quick to point out that while I raked in the gifts the second week of every March, I was also competing in and wearing Russell gear that was guaranteed to fit two type of people in the world: offensive and defensive lineman. That's it. As my friend pointed out, at least they get Nike now.

Even though the gift was great, it obviously was on the back of our minds given the business at hand (sidenote: one of the greatest stories over my five-year career involves a Pac-10 gift, but you'll have to buy my book to find out about it. Yes, I really did just plug my book in the middle of an article).

The business-at-hand, as I mentioned earlier, didn't quite go our way in my various tourney appearances.

I don't know how the Cougs' season will finish this year. Shoot, I'm sure Ken Bone doesn't either. But I do know that this crop of young players has an incredible chance to carve out their own legacy at WSU starting against the Ducks.

In my opinion, that's something worth fighting for.

I just hope they feel the same way.

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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