The idea of having a men's basketball tournament among military schools has been around since Jeff Bzdelik was Air Force’s coach.
Bzdelik moved on to Colorado, and then Wake Forest, but Jeff Reynolds kept the idea alive. The problem was getting four schools together to play basketball on the same weekend was a terribly complicated puzzle to solve, especially as coaches changed at the other institutions.
Last year it finally started to come together. Navy couldn’t participate because of contractual obligations, but Air Force, Army, The Citadel and Virginia Military Institute were in. The coaches of the four teams met at the Final Four in March, and over breakfast they put the final touches on the All-Military Classic, which will be Friday and Saturday at Clune Arena.
For Reynolds, the event will be a source of pride.
“It has been something in the works for a long time,” Reynolds said. “I’m glad it came together.”
Air Force plays Army on Friday at 7:30 p.m., then VMI and Citadel will play at 10. The third-place game tips off at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, and the championship game will follow. Air Force is the first host of the All-Military Classic – a nod to the work Reynolds did to put it together – and the other three institutions will have a chance to host the event once over the next three years.
The late starts Friday this year were for a good reason. The games were picked up by CBS Sports Network, meaning a very rare game on national television for VMI and The Citadel.
“I’d have played at midnight,” Citadel coach Chuck Driesell said.
Being on national television is beyond what Reynolds could have hoped for when he was simply trying to get everyone to join. When Reynolds took over as head coach in 2007, he started his crusade and found that it was going to take some juggling.
“It’s extremely hard to get four guys with openings together,” Reynolds said.
What kept him going was the other coaches were interested, especially new coaches like Army’s Zach Spiker (hired in October 2009) and Driesell (hired in April 2010).
“Any time you have Division I basketball competition going on between teams at academies like these, VMI and The Citadel, who develop leaders beyond sports, I think it’s very special,” Spiker said.
The teams thought it would be appropriate to hold the event on Veterans Day weekend, which is the first weekend of the college basketball season. Duggar Baucom, VMI’s coach since 2005, has been good friends with Reynolds for years. VMI doesn’t like to travel far – this will be VMI’s second plane flight as a team for a road game under Baucom – but Baucom knew this event was worth it.
“Most of our opponents don’t go through what we go through on a daily basis,” Baucom said. “It’ll be neat to compete in that environment.”