Naval Academy visit is an eye-opener
Marquette, Ohio State and Vanderbilt players learn about midshipmen’s life
Marquette basketball player Duane Wilson stood in Tecumseh Court and watched with amazement as the entire Brigade of Midshipmen gathered for the noon meal formation.
Wilson was transfixed as company commanders barked orders and 4,500 midshipmen responded in unison. The Milwaukee native was surprised when a stern-looking Marine officer with a chestful of medals inspected uniforms of various midshipmen, often with his nose just inches from the faces of those standing at attention.
“This right here was awesome. It’s like a team. Everybody is on the same page. Everything these mids do is together as one,” Wilson said.
Members of the Marquette, Ohio State and Vanderbilt men’s basketball teams toured the Naval Academy on Thursday morning. They climbed into the cockpit of a Navy helicopter, boarded a Yard Patrol boat and pretended to fire a machine gun from a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle.
For the coaches involved with the third annual Veterans Classic, the chance for their players to learn more about a service academy was invaluable.
“We get to see a side of life that our guys don’t even know exists,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “Guys watch war movies and think they understand what it’s like to serve in the armed forces. They really don’t know what goes into the training. So this is a unique opportunity for our men to see it firsthand.
“I now know why America’s greatest leaders have come through the service academies. I don’t think our guys can really comprehend the daily discipline, organization and time management these midshipmen must have.”
For Matta, some of the basic elements of daily life at the Naval Academy were awe-inspiring. The Golden Eagles, Buckeyes and Commodores began the tour by observing morning colors in front of Bancroft Hall.
“You look at the maturity and discipline of this institution, it’s remarkable. We watched them raise the flag this morning and it was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen,” Matta said. “There is an element of pride here that you don’t see anywhere else. These young men and women are here for all the right reasons.”
Matta sat inside a ship simulator that was so realistic, “I had to keep telling myself ‘You’re in a building. You’re in a building.’ It really felt like we were out on the water.” Ohio State’s 12th-year coach was glad he wasn’t aboard the destroyer being steered after several of his players collided with an aircraft carrier while trying to navigate through a channel on the way out of port.
“The simulator was definitely cool, seeing who could possibly drive a ship,” said Ohio State freshman center Micah Potter, who readily conceded that he crashed. “I did, Trevor [Thompson] did, a lot of guys did. That was also the hardest possible scenario.”
Potter pointed out that teammate Jimmy Jent performed quite well at the helm. Instructors told Jent he ranked in the 90th percentile for steering ability.
Potter’s maternal grandfather, Ronald Ray, served in the Navy and often talked about the experience.
“I have a very strong discipline in my family. I am very respectful of authorities and try my best not to cuss,” Potter said. “That probably comes from my mom being the daughter of someone whoserved in the Navy. She tried to instill those traits in us as well.”
Potter, a 6-foot-9 freshman who is scheduled to start tonight against Navy, was constantly asking questions of the officers overseeing the ship simulator, YP boat and helicopter-Humvee presentations.
Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski grew up in Severna Park and occasionally played pickup basketball at the Naval Academy. However, not even Wojciechowski had received such an up-close and personal look at the institution.
“This has been an incredible experience on so many fronts. It’s very enlightening for our players to see that other people their age are not only making a huge investment in their future by attending the Naval Academy, but are also committing to one day putting their life on the line,” said Wojciechowski, in his third year at the Milwaukee school.
Wojciechowski believes the visit could serve as a valuable lesson this season as his Golden Eagles “saw firsthand the character traits of discipline, honor and commitment.”
“I think the players gain a great perspective from being here,” he said. “Having grown up in this area, I know the Naval Academy is a special place. But for most of our guys, this is their first indoctrination into the military. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them.” At Annapolis 6:30: Vanderbilt vs. Marquette 9: Ohio State@Navy TV: CBS Sports Network