DENVER – The Harmelings were at a TGIFriday’s in Salt Lake City when the NCAA announced where their son Daven’s basketball team would be playing this week. Mary Harmeling didn’t expect Washington State University to come to her home state of Colorado.
“I’m the only one who let out a scream when they said Denver,” Harmeling said. Her husband, Jeff, a pastor, kept his cool.
Then she called up Daven, who was at the Cougars’ NCAA tournament selection party in Pullman, and left an excited two-minute message on his cell phone.
“I was pretty vocal, yeah,” she admitted.
The Harmelings and their other son, Mike, will drive the four hours from Grand Junction, Colo., today to watch the Cougs play the Winthrop University Eagles at 4:20 p.m. Pacific Time in the first round of the men’s NCAA tournament.
Daven’s sister, Mindy, will listen over Internet radio from Afghanistan, where she’s an aid worker. It’ll be 4 a.m. Friday there.
Daven, a reserve forward for the Cougars and often considered WSU’s sixth man, played at Denver’s Pepsi Center four years ago in “The Show,” a high school all-star game. Also at The Show was teammate Caleb Forrest, a reserve from Pagosa Springs, Colo.
“It’s exciting to be able to have my family just drive to the game,” Daven said.
Caleb’s parents, Jon and Kim Forrest, drove five hours over the Continental Divide to Denver on Wednesday evening. The Forrest contingent includes eight family members. Caleb even made sure to get a ticket for Taylor, his 4-year-old nephew.
“It’s super exciting to play in front of my family and friends. It’s like a reunion, kind of,” Caleb said. “Hopefully I take that and use it for the right things, and not as a distraction sort of thing.”
His parents were planning to follow the Cougars, Kim Forrest said, but the trip became much more convenient with the NCAA announcement Sunday that Washington State would play in Denver.
“I cried,” she said, “because I’d been watching the ESPN bracketology all week to see where they might be, and they never once mentioned Denver.”
Of course, playing in any one of the eight first- and second-round cities would have been an honor for the Cougars, who are competing in the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row. With a 24-8 record, Washington State is the highest tournament seed in Denver at No. 4 and is ranked 22nd nationally.
“To be back here and playing at this level is quite an honor, I guess,” said Kim Forrest. “I never would have guessed he would have been playing here. But now he is. That’s pretty cool, for sure.”
The Forrests saw their son when the Cougars played at Arizona State and Arizona in January, and they visited Pullman during Christmastime, she said.
Today’s game will be the first time the Harmelings have seen their son play in person this season.
“When you have a kid in Division 1 athletics, they don’t come home very often,” Mary Harmeling said.
Four hours from home still isn’t home, but it’s close enough to count. Daven and Caleb each are from the Western Slope of Colorado and they played against each other once, and though Daven said he couldn’t remember the outcome, Caleb swore his team won by one point.
But Daven, a redshirt junior, and Caleb, a true junior, have done their parts. Daven is averaging 6.1 points and 21 minutes per game; Caleb averages 11 minutes, 3.4 points and 2 rebounds.
“We just wanted … kids that were tough, that wanted to come here, were excited about it, full of character,” said coach Tony Bennett. “Daven Harmeling and Caleb Forrest are at the top of the list when it comes to that and … they’ll do whatever you ask of them. That’s a joy to coach.”
“It’s crazy now to think – to be back in my home state and be able to play in the tournament, it’s a blessing,” said Harmeling. “And I never saw it coming, never would have guessed.”
Come tonight, WSU will get down to business. If they win today’s game against the Winthrop Eagles, the Cougars play Saturday against Notre Dame or George Mason.
And the Harmelings and Forrests have hotel reservations through Saturday.
“When I think about it, my stomach turns already,” Mary Harmeling said of today’s game. “It’s really a once-in-a-lifetime moment for your child, and we’re just proud to be a part of it with one of (our) kids.”