The Admiral and the Beaver

The second week of November is a great time to be a basketball fan. As I write this, Bally is perched behind me keeping an eye on LIU-Brooklyn’s effort at an Assembly Hall upset, and this morning I brushed my teeth to the dulcet tones of Dunk City and Hartford’s TV-mandated early-morning tip.

This week, of course, is also a week of remembrance. Appropriately enough, Ray’s travels over the Veteran’s Day weekend took him to VMI’s All-Military Classic, a tip-off tournament that put several of the Mid-Majority’s service academies on center stage. It’s a fitting conjunction of the game, the holiday and the young men who’ve chosen careers in the Armed Forces — and it was a rare opportunity to shine a national spotlight on these teams.

The lack of attention is sort of understandable. After all, military academies face more than the usual uphill battles of mid-majors. The wide majority of schools don’t require their basketball teams to go through basic training or wake up for drill at 5:30 — much less get a Congressional nomination to attend, or a standard-issue haircut when they do. There’s intense competition for spots in West Point and Annapolis and elsewhere, but not necessarily for basketball purposes.

That said, they also have an instructive motto: “every cadet’s an athlete.” No matter what their specific-sport skill, service academy cadets have the qualities that coaches love: physical endurance, devotion to teamwork, unselfishness. Our five old familiar elements are as non-negotiable for the cadet as they were for Dick Bennett, and the resulting teams tend to be competitive, tireless and mistake-free, even if they’re not bound for sportz-world glories.