On November 25th, it was announced that Navy would host the seventh annual Veterans Classic. The event that is usually a landmark on college basketball fans’ schedules would still go on and be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network, just with a ton of restrictions.
I had attended last season and had a blast. A ranked Auburn team dominated a highly touted Davidson squad in the first game, and Navy “upset” ECU in the second. I was determined to attend once again.
It all started on an innocent Tuesday afternoon on October 27th. Buried in an email about Patriot League scheduling, I asked Navy’s SID, Justin Kischefsky, if I could attend.
COVID-19 cases had been spiking up in Maryland, so the question was a shot in the dark now. Would they even allow media to attend? I mean, I attend school at the University of South Carolina, where they have allowed media and fans for anything and everything.
Less than fifteen minutes later, he responded and told me he would look at his options. I was thrilled.
Twenty hours later, I got another response. It was a yes! Attached was a legal form, and he had informed me that my car would have to be searched before driving onto campus. Along with this, the easiest way to send the form was via FAX machine.
I was born in 2001. I have never even seen a FAX machine!
I found one the following Monday. I bolted to the university’s FedEx store and lucky enough, they had three working. I just could not figure them out, though. I followed the directions and called a busy help line for what seemed like an hour.
Frustrated enough, I left the store and called my mom, and just had her FAX it to him from my home back in Baltimore.
The Friday before the event, I got a confirmation email that I would be able to attend. From there I traveled home on Thanksgiving Monday, and left the house at 9:40 on Thanksgiving Eve.
From the Lorensen den, I ran a couple errands before I was on my merry way to Annapolis. This included cutting my finger on my credit card, which bled for the remainder of the half-hour drive to the state capital.
As I got off the exit, the excitement hit me. Going into a completely dead parking lot, I drove under a tent and had my car searched. I was to give them my ID, a form, and get out, facing the opposite direction with my hands behind my back.
I explained my life story like I usually do in strange situations and was welcomed back to my car a minute later.
Driving up to the academies entrance, my ID was taken again. The Mid on duty came out a couple seconds later, handed me it back, and I drove right into Alumni Hall’s parking garage.
Walking into the arena, I got my temperature checked. Entering a nearly empty Alumni Hall was a strange feeling. Of course, it is nothing new to media members, but it was different knowing that it would not change the rest of the afternoon.
Giving myself a self-guided tour around the empty Alumni Hall concourse, I talked to a person or two and made my way down to my courtside seat.
Due to social distancing rules, I had my own separate table that was added onto the end. I was also one of three print media members to be there. The other two are what you would call “legends” in the business.
To my right was Naismith Hall of Fame member, and two-time New York Times bestselling author John Feinstein. To his right was longtime Capital Gazette Navy beat writer Bill Wagner. I was in the company of two legends. Not to mention, Pete Gillen was announcing the game.
After a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem, the game was underway. Everything was back to normal. Cam Davis was balling out, and George Washington ran their always fun MAYHEM style of defense. Only there was very little of that.
Navy led from start to finish, picking up another signature win to open their season. Six days later, they would pick up their first win against a Big East opponent since 1996 when they upset Georgetown in Washington D.C.
Davis and John Carter combined for an impressive 32 points in their 78-71 win over the Colonials. They would have an even more impressive 48 points six days later.
The empty arena didn’t seem to faze these teams though. Navy had their band in attendance in their season opening win against GW.
As per usual during the Veterans Classic, they played all of the different fight songs of the branches of military. They even played the Space Force fight song, which nudged John Feinstein to look over to me and say “What the hell is the Space Force?”
When asked about the empty arena, George Washington head coach, Jamion Christian acted like it was really nothing, stating, “It’s a sense of normality for our team and for college basketball fans.”
Getting back to a game felt the same for me. A sense of normality. It’s what I do come winter time.
I’m thrilled that Navy allowed me to attend, and with the right precautions, I believe that every Division I college basketball program in the nation could safely allow media to attend. Require mandatory tests for attendees. If in an area with a large outbreak, don’t even think about it. Safety is always first.