Study­ing his­tory on the road

In­ter­ac­tive tour ex­poses Auburn, David­son and East Carolina play­ers to mil­i­tary

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Bill Wag­ner

Bran­don Suggs was the very pic­ture of con­cen­tra­tion as he steered a de­stroyer out of San Diego Har­bor.

Suggs, a ju­nior for­ward with the East Carolina men’s bas­ket­ball team, was to­tally fo­cused as he was forced to fol­low all the nav­i­ga­tional mark­ers, avoid on­com­ing ships in the nar­row chan­nel and ne­go­ti­ate steep waves upon en­ter­ing the Pa­cific Ocean.

At one point, the 6-foot-6 prod­uct of Pow­der Springs, Ge­or­gia turned the wheel too sharply and the ship sud­denly rolled. It would have been a cat­a­strophic mis­take out on the wa­ter, but for­tu­nately Miles was op­er­at­ing in­side a ship sim­u­la­tor lo­cated within Luce Hall on the cam­pus of the Naval Academy.

Miles and all his East Carolina team­mates took a turn steer­ing Naval ves­sels as part of ex­tremely re­al­is­tic sim­u­la­tions. In the span of about an hour, those Pi­rates play­ers gained a deeper un­der­stand­ing of what manymid­ship­men will be do­ing when they grad­u­ate from the Naval Academy.

“It was re­ally cool, very in­tense,” Suggs said af­ter­ward of the ship sim­u­la­tor ex­pe­ri­ence.

On Thurs­day, the three vis­it­ing teams par­tic­i­pat­ing in the sixth an­nual Vet­er­ans Clas­sic toured the Naval Academy to gain a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the in­sti­tu­tion and learn more about the daily lives of the mid­ship­men there.

Play­ers and coaches from Auburn, David­son and East Carolina climbed aboard a Yard Pa­trol boat, stepped in­side a heli­copter and poked around a Humvee. Along the way, they in­ter­acted with mem­bers of the Brigade of Mid­ship­men as well as var­i­ous Naval of­fi­cers they en­coun­tered.

“I found the tour to be a very in­sight­ful ex­pe­ri­ence with re­gard to the honor and in­tegrity of these mid­ship­men,” said Bob McKillop, the 30th-year head coach at David­son. “It clearly gives you a great un­der­stand­ing of just how com­mit­ted these young, as­pir­ing mil­i­tary of­fi­cers are, along with the dis­ci­pline re­quired to at­tend a ser­vice academy.”

All the vis­i­tors were clearly cap­ti­vated by the noon for­ma­tion in front of Ban­croft Hall, which is con­ducted daily with mil­i­tary pre­ci­sion. There was com­plete si­lence as the brigade, reg­i­men­tal and com­pany of­fi­cers yelled out or­ders and the mid­ship­men re­sponded.

A pep band be­gan play­ing An­chors Aweigh as the as­sem­bled marched up the steps and in­side Ban­croft Hall. Auburn, David­son and East Carolina play­ers then ate lunch in King Hall along­side the mid­ship­men.

“It was every­thing we wanted it to be. Cer­tain things need to be taught — pa­tri­o­tism, love of coun­try, an un­der­stand­ing of the free­doms we en­joy,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “I think it’s our job as coaches and teach­ers at the uni­ver­sity to give our stu­den­tath­letes an op­por­tu­nity to learn those things.”

Pearl believes the ex­po­sure to var­i­ous mil­i­tary equip­ment gave his play­ers a deeper un­der­stand­ing that mid­ship­men their age would very soon be com­mis­sioned of­fi­cers lead­ing men and women into harm’s way.

“This is hal­lowed ground be­cause of what hap­pens here, the train­ing that takes place through­out the year,” Pearl said. “We play to win, and we don’t like to lose. These guys here at Navy — if they lose, they lose their lives. There’s a huge dif­fer­ence. I can­not put into words the ad­mi­ra­tion and re­spect I have for these young men who are go­ing to serve our coun­try.”

Auburn is com­ing off an ap­pear­ance in the Fi­nal Four, a break­through cam­paign that con­cluded with a 30-10 record. The Tigers suf­fered sig­nif­i­cant losses with six key mem­bers of the ro­ta­tion ei­ther grad­u­at­ing or leav­ing early for the pro­fes­sional ranks.

How­ever, Pearl has brought in a highly rated re­cruit­ing class led by swing­man Isaac Okoro, who is al­ready con­sid­ered an NBA prospect. Auburn will meet a David­son pro­gram that has been a con­sis­tent win­ner un­der McKillop, whose 2008 squad led by the in­com­pa­ra­ble Stephen Curry ad­vanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tour­na­ment.

“This was an honor for Auburn bas­ket­ball to be asked to par­tic­i­pate in this event. When I got the call, I didn’t even hes­i­tate,” Pearl said. “I didn’t look for­ward to play­ing David­son be­cause that’s a re­ally good team that is re­ally well coached, but we felt com­pelled to sup­port this event.”

Pearl pointed out that a key com­po­nent of the orig­i­nal mis­sion of Auburn Uni­ver­sity, as set forth in the Mor­rill Acts of 1862 and 1890, was to teach mil­i­tary tac­tics. To this day, Auburn boasts one of the top-rated Re­serve Of­fi­cer Train­ing Corps (ROTC) pro­grams in the coun­try.

“We’re go­ing to have a re­ally good turnout of fans who have trav­eled from all over the coun­try to see our team play here at the Naval Academy,” Pearl said.

Ninth-year Navy head coach Ed DeChellis es­tab­lished the Vet­er­ans Clas­sic for a two-fold pur­pose. First and fore­most, bring­ing some of the elite pro­grams in Divi­sion I to the An­napo­lis ser­vice academy vastly im­proves the vis­i­bil­ity of Navy bas­ket­ball. Se­cond, the event pro­motes aware­ness of Vet­eran’s Day, which is this com­ing Mon­day.

“We have more than 20 mil­lion vet­er­ans in this coun­try and they de­serve to be hon­ored as much as pos­si­ble,” DeChellis said. “I hope this event brings some sort of recog­ni­tion about all the great vet­er­ans who have fought for our free­dom. Bas­ket­ball games are the ve­hi­cle we’re driv­ing, but hope­fully peo­ple see the big pic­ture and un­der­ly­ing mes­sage be­hind what we are do­ing.”

Naval Academy ath­letic di­rec­tor Chet Glad­chuk ad­dressed that very topic when wel­com­ing the three vis­it­ing teams on Thurs­day morn­ing, speak­ing pas­sion­ately about the im­por­tance of hon­or­ing the na­tion’s mil­i­tary vet­er­ans.

Clint Bruce, a former Navy foot­ball player and Navy SEAL, ad­dressed the play­ers on Thurs­day evening in Memo­rial Hall — a sa­cred place that con­tains a com­plete honor roll of the 2,660 Naval Academy grad­u­ates who have died in mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions.

“Clint Bruce al­ways gives a very pow­er­ful speech. He talks about do­ing the job, stay­ing the course, hold­ing fast,” DeChellis said. “When things are done wrong by Navy SEALS, peo­ple lose their lives.”

McKillop is a proud Amer­i­can and agreed to bring David­son to the Vet­er­ans Clas­sic to sup­port the cause of which DeChellis and Glad­chuk both spoke.

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