Navy head coach Ed DeChellis saw college basketball games being played in aircraft carriers and his immediate reaction was: "Why aren't we involved?"
That prompted DeChellis to brainstorm about ways to get Navy men's basketball more national exposure.
DeChellis got his wish on Monday when CBS Sports Network announced the "Veterans Classic at the Naval Academy." The television network partnered with the Naval Academy to create the event, which will be held annually through 2017 and bring some of the nation's top programs to Annapolis.
It was also announced on Monday that the inaugural Veterans Classic will be held on Friday, November 14 and feature one of the most successful programs in college basketball history and a legendary head coach.
Michigan State, which is led by eight-time National Coach of the Year Tom Izzo, will play Navy in the nightcap at 9 p.m. Tennessee and Virginia Commonwealth, both of which made the NCAA Tournament last season, will meet in the opener at 6:30.
Navy will host and participate in every Veterans Classic with the other three teams changing from year-to-year. DeChellis said the goal is to hold the event on Veterans Day if the calendar allows. This year, the national holiday falls before Nov. 14, which is the first date the NCAA allows schools to play regular season games.
"We are excited to be able to put on a first class event with our partners from CBS while also honoring veterans from all the services," Naval Academy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said. "It will be an incredible opportunity to host some of the premier basketball programs in the country in Alumni Hall."
DeChellis sold the idea to Gladchuk, who in turn presented it to CBS. The Naval Academy Athletic Association has a long-standing relationship with the network, which televises all Navy football home games and has broadcast the Army-Navy football game every year since 1984.
"CBS was very enthusiastic about the event and that was critical. Without the support of CBS, we would not have been able to pull this off," Gladchuk said.
Gladchuk pointed out that major conference programs such as Michigan State and Tennessee do not normally play non-conference games on the road. VCU, which reached the Final Four in 2011 and has won at least one game in the NCAA Tournament each of the last four years, has dramatically increased its profile during the five-year tenure of head coach Shaka Smart.
"I doubt that Michigan State, Tennessee and VCU would be involved with this without the endorsement of CBS," Gladchuk said.
DeChellis developed a friendship with Izzo during his eight-year tenure at Penn State as Michigan State was a regular opponent in the Big Ten Conference. Izzo led the Spartans to the 2000 national championship and a total of six Final Four appearances.
"Tom is a very patriotic person and I was hoping that he would jump at the opportunity to honor our veterans. When I called Tom last fall and pitched it to him, I was thrilled that his response was 'Count us in!" DeChellis said. "It gives the event immediate credibility to get a program of Michigan State's caliber and a Hall of Fame coach."
Izzo owns a career record of 468-187 and has directed the Spartans to seven regular season Big Ten championships along with 17 NCAA Tournament appearances in 19 years at the helm. Michigan State played North Carolina in the inaugural Carrier Classic, held in 2011 aboard the USS Midway.
"I've been fortunate enough to play in some amazing venues and be part of some great events, but the one thing I've always felt was missing was the chance to play at one of our service academies," Izzo said in a statement released by Michigan State. "I'm excited to expose my team to the realities of life at the Naval Academy. We are honored to be playing at a place that has produced some of our country's great leaders."
Izzo also said he was happy to have another opportunity to "coach against my friend Ed DeChellis, a coach for whom I have the utmost respect."
Teams participating in the Veterans Classic will do more than just show up at Alumni Hall and play basketball. Plans call for Michigan State, Tennessee and VCU to arrive in Annapolis a day beforehand to tour the Naval Academy, observe the noon meal formation and eat lunch alongside the Brigade of Midshipmen in King Hall.
"This event is about more than just basketball. We want the players and coaches from the other three teams to be immersed in the culture and tradition of the Naval Academy," DeChellis said.
Michigan State is ranked 18th in the ESPN Preseason Top 25 for 2014-2015 and will be led on the court by senior forward Branden Dawson, Most Outstanding Player in the 2014 Big Ten Tournament. The Spartans, who posted a 29-9 record last season, have two other returning starters in junior guards Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine.
"It will be one heck of a challenge for our ballclub. Michigan State has a roster full of great players. It's a whole different level in terms of size, speed and strength," DeChellis admitted. "It's also a great opportunity for our players to measure themselves against a great program."
Navy, which is coming off a 9-21 campaign, returns all five starters 12 players that earned letters. Standout point guard Tilman Dunbar will rejoin the team after sitting out the final 20 games of 2013-2014 due to an academy-imposed suspension. The Midshipmen also have a 10-man recruiting class arriving on July 1 with three of the plebes coming direct and seven from the Naval Academy Prep School.