ANNAPOLIS, Md. — College basketball teams will travel from Hawaii to Puerto Rico and everywhere in between over the next two months in search of high-quality competition. Few will enjoy the experience that the Friars had the last two days.

The players and coaches from PC, Wichita State and Maryland were all guests of the Naval Academy from Thursday morning through the Veterans Classic doubleheader on Friday night. The team met and dined with Midshipmen and Midshipwomen, took a campus tour and jumped in a helicopter, tested a ship simulator, sat in Humvees and heard several inspirational talks from current Naval administrators.

“To see our players and the joy they had being here, that in itself was worth the trip,” said PC coach Ed Cooley. “We all want to come here and win, but I thought we won as far as our young guys growing up and appreciating what the Armed Forces do for our freedom.”

Cooley and the other three coaches in the doubleheader were guests of Vice Admiral Walter "Ted" Carter Jr., the superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy. Carter is a Burrillville native whose father is a Providence College alumni. He presented each of the coaches with a Naval Academy sword that Cooley said he will cherish.

“I learned so much being here in Annapolis. I’ve never been to the Naval Academy,” Cooley said. “I was blown away by the atmosphere, how we were treated and what our players came away with.”

Cooley said the players enjoyed a speech by former Navy Seal Clinton Bruce and meeting current students. One was Jake Grundy, a Cumberland native and La Salle Academy graduate who grew up a PC fan. Also, a large group of students from the Naval Academy Prep School in Newport attended the doubleheader.

Wichita State cast an even larger net. Gregg Marshall and his players also toured the U.S. Senate and House and enjoyed a behind-the-scenes tour of the White House where they met President Trump. "It's very life-altering for these young people and for a 55-year-old coach like me as well," Marshall said.

Special company

After watching a competitive, end-to-end contest matching two perennial postseason teams, it wasn’t hard to envision the Friars and Shockers playing in the third weekend of March.

PC and Wichita are two of 13 teams that have made five or more consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament in 2018. The other 11 are Arizona, Cincinnati, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina, Villanova, Virginia and Xavier.

Wichita has played in seven straight NCAA Tournaments. The Shockers suffered substantial personnel losses off last year’s 25-win team and were somehow picked to finish eighth in the 12-team American Athletic Conference this season. Wichita State began the season in the AP Top 25 in four of the previous five seasons.

“My guys responded,” said Marshall, ”and hopefully we can build on this when you beat a team like Providence that’s going to win 22, 23 games and be able to advance in the NCAA Tournament.”

Playing time

Cooley used 11 of his 12 scholarship players in the first half alone with freshman Kris Monroe seeing his first action of the season. Monroe did not play against Siena and was presumably a red-shirt candidate, but Cooley likes his ability to make shots.

Senior Emmitt Holt did not play in the opening half but did see three minutes late when the Friars slapped a press on the Shockers. Cooley said Holt “still isn’t ready to compete,” while continuing to recover from abdominal surgery. That said, the coach knows that using his entire roster isn’t going to last long in tough, competitive nonconference games.

“That has to be addressed, 100 percent,” Cooley said. “Trying to get guys on the floor and get them some game experience is important, but that’s on me. I did not do a good job with roster substitutions. We will make that adjustment pretty quick.”

— kmcnamar@providencejournal.com 

On Twitter: @KevinMcNamara33