On the Veterans Classic and Navy Basketball

Well, I’m officially an “old grad.”

I came to this realization as I took my seat in Alumni Hall to watch Temple and North Carolina warm up before game one of the Veterans Classic. We had some fun events on the yard when I was a mid, I guess, with the usual slate of concerts and such. There was an advanced screening of Apollo 13 hosted by Jim Lovell himself that was pretty cool. We certainly had good basketball; Navy was the class of the Patriot League. But we never had anything like the Veterans Classic.

Continue reading “On the Veterans Classic and Navy Basketball”

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THE DAY ANNAPOLIS WAS THE CENTER OF THE BASKETBALL UNIVERSE

I don’t take vacations as often as I should. Not that I’m a workaholic or anything, but my wife has a weird schedule that doesn’t sync up very well with mine when it comes to taking time off. The problem with never taking vacations– other than the obvious– is that on the rare occasions when we do take one, we feel a lot of pressure to make sure we’re packing in as much fun as possible. Every second just has to be filled with excitement, and we can’t miss out on anything our destination has to offer since we don’t know when we’ll be able to take another trip. Ironically, the pressure to have fun ends up adding a layer of stress that makes everything less fun.

The same thing happens to me when I make it up to Annapolis. I don’t go anywhere near as often as I should; the last time I attended a home football game was against Central Michigan in 2010. I was determined to go to a game this year, and considered San Jose State since my class was having our reunion that weekend. Then the Veterans Classic was announced, and after that the choice was obvious (sorry, ’99). This was an event I had to see, and by the time last week rolled around I could barely contain my excitement for it. But as my trip grew closer, I started wondering: was I setting myself up for disappointment? Was I putting too much pressure on myself to have fun at this event? Was there any chance the Veterans Classic could possibly live up to the expectations I had built up in my head?

As it turns out, it blew them away.

Continue reading “THE DAY ANNAPOLIS WAS THE CENTER OF THE BASKETBALL UNIVERSE”

Veterans Classic – a Navy experience like none before

I was born in Durham, NC and grew up on Tobacco Road (seriously – we had tobacco fields right behind my childhood home). My parents went to Duke, my dad spent some time as an adjunct at Wake Forest, and my brother graduated from NC State. Cliques formed around ACC basketball school fanbases in schools to the point that the different colors could have been mistaken as gang colors. I might like to talk about football around here, but I was raised on basketball.

The Quicken Loans Veterans Classic would have fit right in with the basketball culture that rules North Carolina. And much like the cozy confines of Cameron Indoor, Alumni Hall provided an intimate evening for nearly 6,000 fans to watch Navy play host to Michigan State, VCU, and Tennessee.

The first matchup of the evening saw VCU, lead by Shaka Smart, open up an early lead on Tennessee that was not relinquished. There were some kinks with the shot clock early on, and a scary moment when VCU guard JeQuan Lewis went down hard and appeared to have a seizure on the court. But the real story was that Smart’s Havoc is real and it is spectacular. VCU seemed to swarm the court on both ends, creating opportunities on offense and confusion for Tennessee on defense. Oh and the VCU pep band is extremely fun. Anyone who has 7 tubas shaking it in the aisles gets a big thumbs up from this former band nerd.

But enough about VCU-Tennessee. Let’s talk about the amazing experience that was Navy vs. Michigan State.

First up: the crowd. I have never heard Alumni Hall sound like that. The Mids in attendance were loud all game long, being relentless when Navy needed to get stops and giving plenty of love for great offensive play. It was something to see when compared with the relative quiet of the mandatory fun Army-Navy games. I can only imagine what Halsey Field House was like when David Robinson was on his way to becoming the Admiral, but I would guess that Friday night came pretty close to matching that intensity.

And the Sparty fans that were around were a lot of fun. Everyone I met was eager to talk, swap stories, and offer up opinions on the event and the play on the court. Granted, they were doing their best impression of Ohio State fans at the Horseshoe in 2009 – quiet consternation and a general “is this really happening” feeling oozing from their clenched hands.

And the consternation was well deserved, because Navy played a complete game and took Michigan State to the wire. Let’s be perfectly clear, this was not a case of Navy hitting miracle threes to keep it close and entertaining. Navy simply went toe-to-toe with Michigan State, capitalized on MSU mistakes, and made a run when they had to. And they did this all with Worth Smith leaving the game with a knee injury in the latter parts of the first half, after already racking up 7 points and a pair of steals and rebounds.

Sure, Michigan State had the highlight reel plays. On a few occasions, Sparty got odd-man breaks on a turnover or steal and shook the court with some high-flying alley-oops. But Navy was never intimidated. We joked about taking pictures of the scoreboard when the Midshipmen held leads early in the game. We were all happy when it was a seven point game at the half. And when Michigan State went on a run to open it up to a 13 point lead in the 2nd half, we all seemed to sense the inevitable blowout upon us. Before the game, I asked Mike if we could keep it to 20. Seemed pretty prescient at the time.

Then Navy went on a 10-0 run to close it right back up.

From there on out, Navy couldn’t get closer than three. But Michigan could never open it back up, either. Over the course of the 2nd half, Navy outscored Michigan State by 2 and held their own on the boards (losing the rebound battle by one). Perhaps the most shocking stat of the game was that Navy’s bench outscored Michigan State’s by a 17-16 margin.

It should be noted that Navy got over 100 minutes of play out of plebes and youngsters. Ed DeChellis has struggled through his first 3 seasons for consistency and depth. But after one game, it looks like the Midshipmen may finally have some. For my money, the Navy player of the game was Edward Alade. He led all Navy players with 12 points on 5-of-6 from the field and a couple of free throws. He went against the trees of MSU under the basket and held his own.

There were multiple stories to come out of Friday night. That Navy took a nationally ranked team to the final minute of the game was the biggest. But right behind it was the quality of the even and the bright future for the Veterans Classic. Some of the biggest names in the country are clamoring to attend (John Feinstein reported on Saturday that Notre Dame will play Navy next year while North Carolina and Temple face off in the other game). With another 3 years left on the current contract, it looks like CBS and Navy have a winner on their hands.

If you passed on the event this year, don’t make the same mistake in 2015. This event matched the energy I’ve felt in attendance at ACC basketball games. It reminded me of the pure fun of watching Tobacco Road teams square off. And it let the nation know that there is a great new event taking place every November in Annapolis. And it let me know that I need to get to more Navy basketball games this season (and write about them). You should come out, too. Looks like it’s going to be a fun year.

ANDY GOES TO THE WOMEN’S BASKETBALL GAME

Hi, I’m Andy. You might remember me from such blog posts as “JV vs. Naps” and “JV vs. Hargrave.” Tonight I want to talk to you about something a little different – Women’s Basketball. Specifically, the Patriot League Championship game that happened tonight in Alumni Hall. As you may have heard by now, the Navy women won their 2nd consecutive championship behind a trio of sophomore stars, headlined by tourney MVP Jade Geif (her 2nd tourney MVP in a row).

The atmosphere in Alumni Hall was great, especially when you consider that most of the Brigade left town last night for spring break. There was a section full of restrictees (wear it proud, ladies and gents – I still have my tape ball from a 30-day stint after spring break my Firstie year), and a pep band consisting of members of the USNA band and the D&B. The latter ended up being a great group, belting out chant after chant when they weren’t blasting out some (slightly off tune) Lady Gaga. I’d say there were north of 1,500 people present by the start of the 2nd half, and would be shocked if any left before the final buzzer.

I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t overly psyched to go to a women’s basketball game. I grew up on Tobacco Road, so roundball is in my blood. Hell, I didn’t even watch a college football game until my plebe year. The few times I watched a women’s game, I was left wanting. It was usually more of a “support the school” thing, not a “I want to watch a women’s basketball game” thing. And for the first 10 minutes, it couldn’t have been any less appealing. After scoring on their first possession, Navy only got 4 points (2 from the stripe) in the next 10 minutes. But Holy Cross only managed 11 points in that time. Yes, it was as ugly as it reads. Holy Cross eventually built out to a 7-point halftime lead and there was little enthusiasm in the crowd.

Many people will read the box score and assume halftime adjustments in the locker room were the reason for Navy’s dominating 2nd half performance. Others might point to a more tightly called game that saw Holy Cross commit 14 fouls in the 2nd half. But I think the spark came from the halftime entertainment. There was a team of kids from a local rec league that put on a scrimmage. The gold team was led by a 2-foot nothing point guard who is destined to be on the next And-1 mix tape. I saw him cross up a kid at the top of the key and drive the lane for a layup, make no look dishes to teammates, and even split a guy with a dribble. That’s to say he put the all down one side of a guy, ran around the other side and picked the dribble up behind him. The crowd started cheering on the kid as he unleashed a torrent of highlight-worthy moves.

By the time the Navy women came out with just minutes to go before the horn – those adjustments must have been wordy – the crowd was a little more bouncy and ready to see some better basketball (though seeing Louisville and Cincinnati sitting at 26-14 in the 2nd half of the Big East championship game, who can complain). The Navy women did not disappoint. The 7 point lead disappeared in a matter of minutes as Navy opened on a 9-2 run and never really looked back. MVP Geif hit a layup with 12 minutes to go to give Navy a 38-37 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.

And by the time Navy got the lead for good, I had started to lose my voice. Two days ago when I asked my wife and my parents if they were interested in going to the game, I looked it as solely a nice starting point to my return to the blog. You know, be the local guy who gets to some games other than football or men’s lacrosse. But by the end of tonight, I was standing on my feet with more than a thousand other Navy fans, cheering on Navy. It wasn’t just fun – it was exciting, emotional, and exhilarating. We stuck around for the trophy presentation, after which the girls did a cheer thanking the fans in attendance, and watched each of the players and coaches climb the ladder to cut the nets down. We’ll be adding another banner in Alumni hall this year – something that’s been rare since the late 90’s.

In the end, I had a great time tonight. The crowd was different from a football game. There wasn’t the massive contingent of old grads who seem to exist solely to make life miserable for other fans. I was able to stand up to take a picture or cheer a play and not once did I get told to get down in front. Even though we were able to get tickets for just a fraction of what a football ticket and parking will run you, the game’s fans seemed to care more and even know more. There was no groaning about timeouts or demands to get the ball more to the forwards. Just pure support and enthusiasm. And that’s the reason why I’ll be sure to go to more Navy Women’s Basketball games in the future. I’m not a convert just yet, but I’m chasing down the bandwagon.

THE BASKETBALL SCHEDULE

It’s out. Some thoughts:

  • 8 of the first 12 games will be on the road. Eek. Tough way to start the season.
  • One of those four home games will be against Tulane on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Sort of a neat game for Alumni Hall, and might have a shot to be televised by CBS Sports Network as a matchup between two conferences for which they own broadcast rights. Fingers crossed.
  • The Mids travel to play Missouri on the same day as the Army-Navy game. The time is still TBA, but it would be awesomesauce if it ended up as a football-basketball doubleheader. Unless I actually go to the Army game this year, in which case I’ll need plenty of time to get the hell out of Landover so I can get back to Annapolis to watch the game somewhere.
  • One game I won’t be missing is against Mercer, which is two days after the Military Bowl. I’ll be disappointed if Alumni Hall isn’t packed with fans who made the trip to the area for the bowl game. In other words, I’ll be disappointed.