- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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Michigan State and Connecticut have agreed to play this year's college basketball opener at an overseas military base on Friday, Nov. 9, prior to Veterans Day.
The Spartans and North Carolina played on the deck of an active aircraft carrier in California to tip off last season.
Ramstein Air Base in Germany, the home of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe and also a North Atlantic Treaty Organization installation, is the proposed location, pending formal approval by the U.S. Department of Defense, which negotiated the game with ESPN programming.
The game would start late, sometime after 10 p.m. local time in Germany, for an early evening East Coast start time. It would be televised on ESPN.
"I asked my players if they wanted to do it and they were jacked," said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. "Has a college team ever played a regular-season game in Europe? I don't think so. It will be cool. We're going to a base in another country. That's pretty cool."
Izzo said that after he went to Kuwait with a coaching group early in the Iraq war, he found an "an incredible appreciation for the military."
That's why he jumped at the chance a year ago when athletic director Mark Hollis pushed through the inaugural game on the USS Carl Vinson on Nov. 11. The game was a huge success with plenty of fanfare, including the presence of President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.
Hollis issued a statement late Monday night to ESPN.com saying: "During Coach Izzo's outreach trips to visit and coach our troops overseas, along with our recent experience in San Diego aboard the USS Carl Vinson, we have all developed deep admiration and respect for the men and women that serve in our armed forces. Those troops, many the same age as our student-athletes, protect the freedom that we enjoy every day. It is our responsibility to give reflection and support to these men and women that currently serve and have served in the past. As such, we appreciate the consideration by the Department of Defense to allow NCAA competition to be a reflection of the support our entire nation feels for our troops."
Hollis said the game would be played in front of 2,500 to 3,000 enlisted men and women at the base.
Hollis said he applauded ESPN for the commitment to programming aimed at "providing our veterans with the respect they deserve. Once again, Michigan State is honored to be a part of that programming and we look forward to sharing America's pride with those stationed at Ramstein in November."
UConn coach Jim Calhoun said he couldn't think of a more appropriate place to play a game since the last official U.S. combat troops withdrew from Iraq in December, and the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan is continuing.
"With so many of our [servicemen and women] coming from the war front, it's appropriate for our kids to honor them," said Calhoun. "This is a great thing for us and for the kids, especially on Veterans Day."
UConn was originally going to play against Arizona in the sequel to the UNC-Michigan State Carl Vinson game, but that game fell through. Three other games that will be either stationed on ships or at a naval dock have been planned for Nov. 9, as well. Florida is set to play Georgetown in Jacksonville, Fla.; Ohio State takes on Marquette in Charleston, S.C.; and Syracuse faces San Diego State in San Diego.
"We had talked about an aircraft carrier game, but it didn't work out and we took this opportunity," Calhoun said. "This will be something that our kids will remember for their lifetime. I hope we're doing our small part to help the with [servicemen and women]."
Last November, a number of sailors told ESPN during the game that they appreciated the attention and the break from the daily grind of being at sea or sitting in dock on the ship.
"We're playing Michigan State, it's on ESPN, and it's a good opportunity for this team to do something special like this to travel to Europe," said Calhoun. "We're doing this because it has a chance to be a special event."
UConn athletic director Warde Manuel said his family has ties to the base and he is looking forward to going to a place he heard so much about growing up.
Hollis said in his statement that he wanted to thank the Department of Defense for allowing "NCAA competition to be a reflection of the support our entire nation feels for our troops."
Izzo said the Spartans will likely leave for Germany late on Tuesday, Nov. 6, and return Saturday afternoon on Nov. 10, to East Lansing. The Spartans play Kansas on Tuesday, Nov. 13, in the second year of the Champions Classic, this time in Atlanta.
Michigan State started last season by playing North Carolina on the Carl Vinson off Coronado Island, then flew home for two days before going to New York to face Duke in the first-ever Champions Classic. The Spartans dropped both games.
"We'll play four days later, but who cares," Izzo said. "The players want to do it. UConn has a really good backcourt. We'll be a little young, but we'll have a pretty good team."
The Spartans lost All-America forward and Big Ten Player of the Year Draymond Green to graduation, but guard Keith Appling returns along with a relatively deep frontcourt led by a recovering Branden Dawson (knee). Michigan State is a legitimate challenger behind Indiana for a top-two finish in the Big Ten.
The Huskies can't play in the Big East tournament or postseason due to poor APR scores. UConn lost two underclassmen to the NBA draft, and three others transferred, including key forward Alex Oriakhi to Missouri; Oriakhi helped UConn win the national title in 2011.
"We've had great battles with Tommy's teams over the years," said Calhoun.
Michigan State beat UConn in the 2009 Final Four semifinals in Detroit. UConn then defeated No. 2 Michigan State in the Maui Invitational in 2010, four months before the Huskies' run to the national title in Houston.
"They are always physical up front, even without seeing them," said Calhoun. "I'm looking forward to this. We both consider ourselves national programs and we're going across the sea to Germany. It's a special thing for our [servicemen and women], a special game for our kids. We get to play a good team. There is an awful lot of good in this for all sides."