WSU’s Harmeling frustrated by struggles

PULLMAN – Daven Harmeling has been to the heights and seen the sights. He’s visited the valleys. College basketball holds no surprises for him anymore. And yet, he wants more.

As Washington State’s only fifth-year senior, Harmeling expected this season to be a culmination and continuation, the culmination of a successful collegiate career and the continuation of the Cougars’ recent success.

Neither has happened.

Yet, when asked for one word to describe his final season of college basketball, Harmeling, a 6-foot-7 forward from Grand Junction, Colo., answers: “Challenging.”

How so?

“How has it not been challenging?” Harmeling asked. “Everything’s been challenging, from the team standpoint first and foremost, losing a lot of close games.

“Individually it’s been challenging going through the struggles of being fairly successful in the non-conference and then not playing as well as I feel I can play.”

When the Cougars face Arizona tonight at Beasley Coliseum, they’ll take a 14-13 overall and 6-9 Pac-10 record into their final homestand of the season. This comes on the heels of back-to-back, 26-win, NCAA tournament seasons.

Harmeling played a big role in both.

Entering WSU in fall 2004 with Dick Bennett’s turn-it-around class that included Kyle Weaver, currently playing with Oklahoma City in the NBA, and Derrick Low, playing in France, Harmeling contributed as a freshman, sat out with a shoulder injury the next season, then emerged as the Cougars’ most feared outside threat as a redshirt sophomore.

He shot 43 percent from beyond the arc that year and averaged 8.9 points and 2.9 rebounds as WSU returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 13 years. The high point was leading the Cougars to an upset of No. 7 Arizona with a career-high 28 points, the low missing a 3-pointer that would have given WSU an NCAA second-round win over Vanderbilt.

Last year his numbers were down, but he still converted 37.6 percent of his 3-pointers and had some huge games, including 18 in the opener against Boise State and 19 in a win at USC.

But Weaver, Low and Robbie Cowgill exhausted their eligibility, leaving Harmeling alone to wave the class’ banner this season.

In the non-conference he seemed poised for a strong offensive season, scoring in double figures in half of the first 10 games. But since a 13-point effort against Montana State, Harmeling has scored a total of 50 points.

“I certainly feel that way,” he said after being asked if a typical Harmeling performance may have made a difference in a game or two. “We’ve had a lot of close games, all these games I’ve shot 0 for 4, 1 for 5. I just feel bad because I’m a fifth-year senior and most of the games in the Pac-10 I feel like I haven’t done anything for the team.

“It’s kind of hard to stomach.”

Harmeling, by his admission, hasn’t shot the ball well since December. As he’s struggled, playing time has diminished. Without time, it’s hard to get out of a slump.

“It’s not like he’s been able to shoot 10, 12 shots a game or get to the line a lot, to get a shooter out of a slump,” WSU coach Tony Bennett said. “The minutes he’s playing and the role he’s playing, it’s usually one to four shots a game. If you’re shooting double-digits shots, you sometimes can find your stroke.”

Cowgill, who still lives in Pullman and attends practice, sees another reason.

“For a guy like Daven, he’s a shot-maker and so he’s best when there are guys around him making plays and he’s able to spot up and make shots,” Cowgill said. “Losing Kyle and Derrick, there’s probably a little less of that.”

Whatever the reason, Harmeling is living with it.

“People probably think I’m walking around, hanging my head, not believing I could make a shot for the rest of my life,” he said. “I’m confident, I’m happy and things outside of basketball are great. I’m fine in terms of who I am. I’m excited about the next thing. There’s always more.”

The next thing is Arizona, against which Harmeling had his best Pac-10 game this season with nine points and six rebounds.

“We’ve got more games left,” he said. “The final chapter of the book isn’t written yet. That kind of keeps me going.”

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