The story behind WSU assistant Jeremy Harden's proposal after upset over Arizona

Feb. 24—TEMPE, Ariz. — Jeremy Harden told Megan Yanda he just wanted to take a picture at halfcourt. As the party unfolded around him, his No. 21 Washington State team moments removed from a colossal upset of No. 4 Arizona in Tucson Thursday night, Harden led his girlfriend to the blue and red "A" logo at midcourt.

A Tucson native and an Arizona graduate, Harden had played on the court a handful of times in his high school days. Now a WSU assistant, he had just helped his Cougars record one of the biggest wins in program history, taking over first place in the Pac-12. It's his first season on the Cougars' staff.

He figured Yanda would believe him, that after such a momentous occasion, he just wanted to take a picture with her. They did that. Then Harden slung his left arm around her shoulder, freeing his right arm to wrangle out of his pocket a small black box.

"Super nervous," Harden said. "I'm fumbling with the box. I'm trying to play it cool."

He used a long hug to rotate and reposition himself right in front of Yanda, his partner of 10 years, who he met when he was an assistant coach at Eastern Oregon and she was an athletic trainer. Then he dropped down to one knee, opened the box and asked her to marry him. She said yes.

They shared another long hug. He kissed his son, 21-month-old Beckett. When the rest of the team found out — he made a point not to tell anyone, not even head coach Kyle Smith, to ensure the group's focus remained on the game — everyone came roaring out of the locker room to celebrate with him.

"Lots of nerves," Harden said. "To do that after the game, a lot more nerves. Just glad she said yes."

Harden didn't have an elaborate plan. He had the ring and he knew he was ready to propose sometime soon, but even a day prior, he wasn't sure when he wanted to pull the trigger. His original plan was to propose on Wednesday night, at a team dinner in Tucson — "But I was like, 'Hey, I wanna do it if we win,' " Harden said.

And if they lost?

"Just gonna have to put it off," Harden said.

When the game tipped off Thursday night, he wasn't sure how he would be spending his time afterward. Around 10 p.m. local time, Washington State took a one-point lead into halftime, which signaled a couple of things to Harden: The Cougs had a real chance to pull the upset, and that meant he had a chance to get engaged afterward.

In the locker room during halftime, Harden went to his bag and pocketed the ring — with no box. That, he said, he forgot back home in Pullman. When the team arrived in Tucson on Wednesday and Harden realized his mistake, he got in touch with lifelong friend Marsharne Flannigan, an assistant coach at nearby Pima Community College, who supplied a backup box and took it with him to the game.

Yes, that means Harden coached the second half of Thursday's game with a loose wedding ring in his pocket.

"I was pretty confident," Harden said. "Either way, it was gonna happen, or it wasn't."

Around the team, the importance of the moment lived on the faces of the Cougs when they heard what happened. They were back in the tunnel, filtering into the locker room to keep celebrating, to hear Smith's postgame message.

That's about when Smith came running from behind and caught up to his players. He told them the news, that Harden had just proposed. For the first few seconds, the players looked confused.

Who? What happened?

"Harden!" Smith called out. "He just got engaged!"

The players were floored. En masse, they sprinted back out onto the court, where they found Harden and Yanda. They mobbed Harden and lifted him onto their shoulders.

Then they made their way back into the locker room, where everyone celebrated together, basking in a moment that was already unforgettable — and now everyone knew Harden's plan all along.