Making Chase A Mountaineer
WHEELING – John Harler was simply taking a lunch break late last month when the phone rang.
He picked it up and thought he heard a familiar voice.
“We were just making small talk, and I kept thinking, ‘I know this voice,'” Harler said recently, at a get-together put on for his son, Wheeling Central junior and basketball standout Chase, who a day earlier committed to West Virginia. “Then, after a pause, he said, ‘John, this is Bob Huggins, West Virginia University.’ “
The elder Harler likely would have fallen out of his chair had he been sitting in one.
Huggins asked if his son was coming to the Elite Camp at WVU later in the month.
One of the winningest active coaches in America then told him West Virginia was definitely interested in getting a commitment from Harler for the Class of 2016.
Huggins told John he had seen his son in an AAU game earlier in the summer, and came away impressed by the fact that he never quite, even though his team was getting beat in an emphatic fashion.
“Ironically, in that game, Chase went after a ball headed out of bounds and almost landed in Coach Huggins’ lap,” Harler said.
Then, Huggins said something that hit Harler like a ton of bricks.
“He said, ‘Let’s see what we can do to make Chase a Mountaineer,” Harler said. “I will never forget that for the rest of my life. Let’s see what we can do to make Chase a Mountaineer.”
Understand that John played a bit of college basketball himself, under TommyAckerman at West Liberty back in the late ’70s.
He said Huggins statement made him feel like he was standing at a free throw line down one with one second left on the clock.
“My knees were shaking,” he said.
Prior to that was another interesting encounter.
Chase’s sister Jessica Harler, who works in Morgantown and is a huge basketball fan, had developed a friendship with assistant coach Billy Hahn.
One day last month, Hahn dropped by the office to tell her all the wonderful things he’d heard about her brother while on the road.
Jessica, not one to miss getting in a well-meaning jab, asked when the Mountaineer coaches were going to get off their fannies and do something with Chase.
She was joking, of course.
Well, sort of.
Turns out Hahn was heading to lunch with Huggins.
It wasn’t much later when Huggins called John Harler.
Not long after that the Harlers were in Huggins office and Chase verbally committed to the Mountaineers.
The father knew his son had a gift for basketball. Enough to play college basketball.
Earlier, when people started taking Division I, he tried to downplay the hoopla over big-time hoops.
He told him what an honor it would be to play in a program like West Liberty, for instance.
College basketball is college basketball, and, well, West Liberty could probably beat a lot of lower echelon Division I’s anyway.
Chase had different ideas, and kept one dream in the back of his head.
“I always wanted to be a Mountaineer,” he said. “I remember watching them when they went to the Final Four (in 2010) and I just started thinking that was the place I wanted to be.”
Likely, his play at Wheeling Central over the next two years will bring on more suitors. He will likely be a candidate for the Evans Award, given to the top high school player in the state, during that time. He’s also likely to land on the prestigious list of about a dozen players to be 2,000-point scorers in the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference.
Line them up he said.
He is a Mountaineer and that isn’t going to change, whether it’s John Calipari, John Thompson, John Chaney or the ghost of the late-great John Wooden.
After returning from Morgantown, John Harler was spent from the extraordinary, monumental day. He was ready to call it a night and asked his son what he planned to do the next day.
Chase wasn’t sure. Probably play some basketball somewhere.
The next morning, he heard his boy in the bathroom, brushing his teeth. It was 6:15 a.m.
“Turns out, he was heading out to work with Jeremy Hays (a former John Marshall standout who set several records at Juniata College and is currently contemplating playing overseas),” John said. “After all the excitement and the long day before, he was up early heading out to play basketball.”
It’s right for a father to be proud of his son.
And let’s face it. It was in just that fashion that Chase made himself a future Mountaineer.
Dave Morrison can be reached via email at: