Living Into Your Ambitions
"HARMELING! My grandmother runs faster than you!" Coach Dick Bennett screamed at one of his freshmen on the Washington State University basketball team. "You—you’re a Division III player. But at least you play hard like a Division I player."
As a junior in high school, Daven Harmeling had limited ambitions. He hoped to at least play Division II basketball in college. Knowing the player's history made his coach's quote in the Spokesman Review that much more delicious. Today, Daven Harmeling has become an endearing story that speaks volumes about trying hard, taking risks, and living into your ambitions.
Three years ago, Harmeling had no idea he would become the "go-to-guy" on Washington State’s 2006-2007 basketball team that is rising in national prominence. Even though he’d had a couple of solid performances at off-season tournaments in high school, he wasn’t being heavily recruited. But his aspirations were starting to change. He was starting to believe he could play Division I somewhere—if he just worked hard enough.
Which is what current WSU head coach Tony Bennett was looking for. He and his father, Dick, had been hired in 2003 to take over a down-and-out basketball program. Even though WSU was a perennial doormat, Father Dick came out of retirement and risked his legendary reputation so that he could coach with his son Tony. If they managed to turn the program around, Tony could eventually become the head coach at WSU.
Known as a relentless recruiter, Tony was fearless. He knew he could take care of himself if this crazy plan didn’t work. But to make it work, he needed to find players with talent who would risk playing for two coaches.
Tony Bennett knew Harmeling "wasn’t the greatest athlete," but he was "a complete all around player, who could play defense," which is a Bennett trademark. "There was something special about Tony when he got on the phone to talk to me that first time," Harmeling told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "The way he talked about the kind of player I was and could become got my attention."
The Cougars won only 36 games and lost 49 in the first three seasons—and Dick Bennett retired again—but not before he got Harmeling’s attention with what is now a term of endearment, "Harmeling at least you play hard like a Division I player."
Harmeling has become one of the most important players on a team full of coaches and players who weren’t afraid to take a risk at turning around a dormant basketball program. Because they tried, their ambitions, along with their national ranking, are on the rise. For three long years, they labored in obscurity. Now they are being mentioned as possible champions, and their coach Tony Bennett is one of the leading candidates for coach of the year honors.
Truly none of this would have been possible if any of the characters in this story, or any of the other characters that comprise the Washington State basketball team, hadn’t said yes, to this crazy, risky idea. Together they learned how to be fearless and live beyond their own limited ambitions.
Often fear and ambition get in the way of our trying. Both Bennetts are Christ-centered. Yet Dick would often get emotional near the end of his coaching career, confessing that "how the game of basketball was played by his players had become too important to him." But, God somehow used Bennett’s desire to help him and others overcome their fear and clarify their ambition in the context of community.
These two coaches and a bunch of overlooked players took a risk, believing that through hard work and common vision they could turn around a moribund basketball program. Together they helped each other conquer fear that it might not be good enough, which created both hope and opportunity God was at work in each individual member from the coach staff down to the benchwarmer. As they learned to trust each other more, they developed championship ambitions that benefited the entire community.