ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland basketball’s 78-57 win over Navy on Friday night was the culmination of two days that went far beyond basketball.
The fifth annual Veterans Classic included a doubleheader Friday night, with Wichita State beating Providence before the Terps’ victory in the nightcap. But the three visiting teams all took a tour of Navy’s campus Thursday morning and spent the bulk of two days soaking in the unique environment in Annapolis.
“I thought my guys worked hard until I started hanging around these students here and what they do to want to serve and be selfless,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said after the game. “So I think it was a real humbling experience for all of us. We learned a lot about the Naval Academy and what they stand for and how lucky we are to live in this great great country and have people that just want to serve and protect us.”
The players came away similarly amazed. Being a Division I student-athlete is hard enough without the military responsibilities that come with attending Navy. Seeing the day-to-day lives of the Midshipmen gave several Terps a whole new perspective.
“What I took away is that it’s people who risk their lives every single day for us to be able play and go to school and stuff like that. I’m very appreciative,” sophomore guard Darryl Morsell said. “We got to see a cool crafts, a lot of cool ships, planes and stuff like that. But just the discipline that these individuals at the Naval Academy have, and just the mindset that they have to get up every day and do the stuff they do for this country is amazing, and I’m just grateful.”
The Naval Academy and CBS Sports Network partnered to create the Veterans Classic before the 2014-15 season, and programs such as North Carolina, Michigan State, Miami and others have paid a visit. Navy head coach Ed DeChellis, who played a large role in making the event happen, is proud of what it’s become.
“This is a great classic in every way,” DeChellis said. “It’s not just a basketball game. It’s an opportunity for young men to come to Navy and see different things that they don’t see on their campuses ... and I think it gives them a little different appreciation of what they have.”
With everything else going on, it’s easy to forget about the game itself; for Maryland, a loss would have been a stain on the resume all season. The Terps started slow but turned on the jets midway through the second half, turning what was a tied game early in the second half into a 21-point win.
While the victory is an essential part of the experience, the second of 31 regular-season games won’t stick in players’ and coaches’ minds as long as the eye-opening interactions with the Midhipmen. Junior point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. led all scorers with 24 points on Friday, but he’ll remember Thursday’s tour even more.
“My favorite was probably having lunch with them and being able to sit with them and just have a regular conversation with them,” Cowan said. “It was a really good trip.”
Both teams will continue their seasons from here, but while the rigors of the Naval Academy were a two-day spectacle for the Terps, they’ll be an everyday grind for their opponents. Navy players have embraced all aspects this event, from sharing their stories to playing televised basketball against high-level teams.
“Just showing them what we go through every day, because there’s no school like the United States Naval Academy anywhere,” sophomore guard Cam Davis said. “And I think it’s awesome that they come in and they finally see what we go through, and they’re all so interested, asking all these questions.
“I’ve got two years left to play in the Veterans Classic, and I’m really looking forward to it.”