College Basketball

Navy’s Veterans Classic men’s basketball tournament to feature highly ranked Houston, Princeton, Saint Joseph’s

A program that could contend for the 2023 national championship, along with another led by a very familiar name to Navy basketball fans highlight the ninth edition of the Veterans Classic, scheduled for Nov. 11 at Alumni Hall on the academy campus.

Houston, which is ranked second or third in most early preseason polls, is the headliner. The Cougars, who advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament return a ton of talent and welcome a highly touted recruiting class. The Cougars were also a 2021 Final Four team.


“Houston is a marquee program that has a legitimate chance to win it all,” said Navy head coach Ed DeChellis, who is primarily responsible for the Veterans Classic lineup.

Houston will open the doubleheader against Saint Joseph’s, which is directed by coach Billy Lange. The former Navy mentor is entering his fourth season at the Atlantic 10 Conference school located in Philadelphia.


Lange was Navy’s head coach from 2004 to 2011, preceding DeChellis. Lange was named Patriot League Coach of the Year in 2008.

Lange left Navy to become associate head coach at Villanova under Jay Wright, for whom he served as an assistant from 2001 to 2004. Following a brief stint as an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers, he was hired as the 15th coach in Saint Joseph’s history.

“Billy Lange has wanted to bring Saint Joseph’s to the Veterans Classic and we’ve been trying to work something out for the last two or three years. We were able to make it work this year,” DeChellis said. “Saint Joseph’s was looking for a Power Five game and you can’t do much better than Houston in that department.”

While Lange wanted to expose his players to the Naval Academy as part of the two-day event, he did not want to take on his former team.

“Billy didn’t want to play Navy, which I understand,” DeChellis said. “Billy said he had a great experience here in Annapolis and did not want to be in the position of rooting against Navy.”

Host Navy will welcome Princeton for the nightcap of the doubleheader, which tips off at 6 p.m. and will be televised by CBS Sports Network. Coach Mitch Henderson led the Tigers to a 23-7 record and the Ivy League regular-season championship with a 12-2 mark.

DeChellis noted that several Patriot League programs, notably American, Army and Loyola, employ concepts of the Princeton offense. “This game will give our guys a good snapshot of what we’ll see down the road,” he said.


Tosan Evbuomwan, a 6-foot-8 forward from England, returns for Princeton after being named Ivy League Player of the Year for 2021-22. Princeton, which played in the NIT last season, will be the first Ivy League program to participate in the Veterans Classic.

“We are excited to be able to visit such a prestigious and historic place that excels in its high standards of academics, athletics and military performance,” Henderson said. “Our program is humbled by this invitation and the chance to experience the [academy’s] daily life firsthand.”

DeChellis credited Houston director of basketball operations Bobby Champagne with helping facilitate the Cougars’ appearance. DeChellis has known Champagne, who was coach at North Alabama from 2003 to 2018, for a long time.

Champagne helped sell Houston coach Kelvin Sampson about the benefits of playing in the Veterans Classic, which features an interactive tour of the Naval Academy during which the visiting players gain insight into the daily life of a midshipman.

“There’s a lot of networking and phone calls that go into putting this thing together. I reached out to Bobby and I think he did a good job of talking to Kelvin about this event,” DeChellis said. “I’m very appreciative of Houston and its administration for allowing the basketball program to come to Annapolis and play in this event.”

Houston made a magical March Madness run despite losing star guard Marcus Sasser to a season-ending toe injury after just 12 games. Sasser, an All-American Athletic Conference selection as a sophomore, was leading the Cougars in scoring when he went down.


Sasser returns and will combine with emerging point guard Jamal Shead to form one of the top backcourts in the country. The Cougars have added a five-star recruit in 6-foot-8, 235-pound power forward Jarace Walker, a McDonald’s All American.

Houston compiled a 32-6 record and captured both the AAC regular season and tournament titles.

“This will be a great opportunity to expose our kids to the history of the U.S. Naval Academy that they can only read about,” Sampson said. “For me personally, there has always been an appeal for going to the academy and being in Annapolis. I have always wanted to take a team to the Naval Academy. When this opportunity came, we took it.”

While Houston will bring a national spotlight to the Veterans Classic, DeChellis likes the fact Saint Joseph’s and Princeton are located close enough to bring a large contingent of fans to Annapolis.

“Historically, these are three really good programs. I think it’s a great field and the games will be very competitive,” he said.

Host Navy returns two starters and four top reserves from last season’s team that finished 21-11 and advanced to the Patriot League Tournament final. Starting power forward Tyler Nelson, starting point guard Sean Yoder, backup wing forward Jaylen Walker, reserve swingman Sean Yoder and backup point guard P.J. Roach lead a strong senior class.