Cougar hoops: A vivid walk down memory lane

MARV HARSHMAN

HOW TIMES HAVE changed. The basketball coach at Washington State is making $1 million a year and the team itself will be flying on charters more often than not come this winter. Back in 1971, in his last season at WSU, Hall of Fame coach Marv Harshman made a little less than $20,000. And what he remembers about air travel wasn't commercial vs. charter, but the hurdles it presented in recruiting.

In a wide-ranging phone interview last week from the Bothell home he shared with Dorothy, his wife of nearly seven decades, the 90-year-old Harshman was gracious and loquacious. He shared his thoughts about Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver and more than 70 years worth of crimson reflections collected as a player, coach and fan.

His memory is something to behold. Jim McKean's 27 rebounds against West Virginia still burns bright. So do Ted Wierman's 29 points, mostly on reverse layups, against Lew Alcindor. He chuckles at the thought of Idaho football players, sitting courtside, chanting that Cougar star forward "Charlie Sells drinks Idaho beer!"

The vignettes are many and vivid all these years later.

He can tell you his starting salary at WSU in 1958-59 was $9,500. That it wasn't until his seventh season in Pullman that he was allowed to hire a full-time assistant coach -- a guy by the name of Jud Heathcote.

HARSHMAN won 642 games in a 40-year career. He spent 13 seasons each at PLU and Washington State and 14 at Washington. He won 155 games with the Cougs.

And that his recruiting budget in 1964-65, the year Heathcote joined him, was all of $800.

That's when the talk turns to air travel -– or lack there of.

"We had $800 (to recruit with) and a state car, so we drove everywhere. We never had any money to fly guys in," he remembers.

Not surprisingly, his 13 Cougar teams were home grown.

Sells and Terry Ball, two of his early standouts, were from Seattle; Rick Erickson and Jim McKean, perhaps the biggest stars of the Harshman era, hailed from Vancouver and Tacoma. Ted Wierman and Lenny Allen were from Yakima. Ted Werner, Lake Stevens. Ray Stein, Richland. The list goes on.

The most touted imports –- Gary Elliot, Jim Meredith and Dan Steward -- came from such exotic basketball hotbeds as Sandpoint, Anaconda and Nampa.

The recruiting budget grew enough to fly in one or two prospects a year from California. But that was almost defeating the purpose. "We'd fly them to Seattle or Portland and then they'd get on a puddle jumper that stopped in Yakima, Pasco, Walla Walla and Lewiston before arriving in Pullman," Harshman recalls.

JIM McKEAN: All-conference in 1967 and '68. Ranks No. 3 on WSU's career rebounding list and No. 7 in career scoring. Drafted by the Sonics but instead pursued a Ph.D and became a college professor.

He finally broke the ice in 1968 when Dennis Hogg, from the Oakland area, decided to come north. "One of the best forwards I ever coached," Harshman says.

Asked to come up with a list of the greatest Cougar players of all time, he hesitates. Because of the different styles of the eras, you almost have to pick all-decade teams rather than all-time teams, he says. "Statistics are what most people rate these types of selections on, but that doesn't offer a valid comparison --- in the old days freshmen couldn't play on the varsity; there was no three-point shot; and there was no shot-clock."

When pressed to name the five greatest Cougars ever, Harshman offers up Gail Bishop, a WSU All-American in 1943 who Harshman faced while playing at Pacific Lutheran and, later, in a regional pro league.

Don Collins, a dunking and driving phenom for George Raveling -- and a 1980 first-round NBA draft pick -- is another name that comes immediately to mind.

Lindemann, Hansen, Beck, Erickson, McKean, Puidokas, Donaldson, Ehlo, Hendrickson ... Harshman rattles off a list of other contenders, hesitant to zero-in on just a few.

And then the talk turns to Tony Bennett's Cougars.

Ivory Clark, he says, was a player he'd have loved to see back in uniform this past season. "Clark was a tremendous defender, a shot blocker. They really missed him this year."

In terms of historic perspective, he was sterling in his assessment of Weaver and Low.

"I tell you, Weaver is such an all-around player," Harshman says. "For what he did for the team, you can't argue that he was the best all-around player ever there. And then there's Low. I really like him. He's a guy that wins games for you. Guard or point guard, he was a tremendous influence for four years.

"I think maybe you have to put both of them on the all-time team. They were impressive."

With their departures, can the Cougars sustain the success of the last two seasons?

CHARLIE SELLS, the pride of Roosevelt High, graduated from WSU in 1962 with a then-school record 827 career rebounds and 12.6-points-per-game scoring average. He played in the old ABA for Long Beach and also had a brief stint in football with the Dallas Cowboys.

"Yes," he answers quickly. "They're doing a good job in recruiting, and in the Northwest now, too. They do a great job of getting kids that fit into the program ... his system reminds me a lot of what we used to do at WSU .... Now that Tony's making a $1 million, I think he'll stay for awhile and keep the progress going."

NOTABLE HARSHMAN NOTES:

• Harshman believes that if the NCAA tournament were structured in the old days the way it is today, that seven of his 13 Cougar teams would have made it to the Big Dance.

• In a 1985 "exit interview" with the Seattle Times following his retirement, Harshman was asked to name the five best players he coached in his 40 years as head man at Pacific Lutheran, WSU and UW. His choices were WSU's Rick Erickson, PLU's Chuck Curtis and UW's Detlef Schrempf, Steve Hawes and James Edwards. In the same story he picked his five biggest over-achievers: Gary Elliot, Jim McKean and Ted Werner of WSU, Lars Hansen of UW and Roger Iverson of PLU.

• Harshman defeated UCLA coaching legend John Wooden in their first meeting, with the Cougars in 1959, and their last, with the Huskies in 1975. That '75 Bruin team would go on to win the last of Wooden's ten national championships.

• Of his three coaching stops in the state of Washington, Harshman said, "I enjoyed every job I had, but I really enjoyed WSU and the people of Pullman. Our kids were raised there. It was such a community -- we got to know everybody."

• The reason Harshman left WSU has been the source of ranging speculation for years. He tells it plainly. He wasn't looking to leave, but the UW called him at just the right moment. Stan Bates, his good friend and WSU athletic director, was heading off to become commissioner of the WAC, and the new school president, Glenn Terrell, was talking about more belt tightening in athletics.

• Of George Raveling, the Cougars' coach for much of Harshman's tenure at UW, Harshman was highly complimentary. "George was a true competitor and a very nice guy -- a real nice person. He also was a tough recruiter -- he had some outstanding athletes at WSU. George was very good for Washington State."

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