It’s been 11 years since Michigan State's last appearance hooping on an aircraft carrier.
Flash forward more than a decade and the Spartans will return to San Diego, California to face No. 2 Gonzaga for their second Armed Forces Classic in program history.
Head Men's Basketball Coach Tom Izzo expressed gratitude for the opportunity to play in this event for the second time, more than any other collegiate program.
“Take a moment to appreciate the ship,” Izzo said. “The fact that we’re going to be on it for two days and those sailors are on it for six months without coming home. Appreciation for the organization and a ship that’s going to have 4-5,000 people, that’s almost the size of my home town."
Putting aside all the excitement that comes with the trip to San Diego, Izzo has his sight set on a win.
“Mark Few’s done a great job with their program,” Izzo said. “They’ve got some veteran guys that are back and (Drew) Timme of course is there.”
Comfortably sitting at No. 2, Gonzaga’s going to be a tough competition come Friday’s matchup. The Bulldogs are coming off a suffocating 104-63 point win against North Florida in their season opener.
The last time the green and white faced the Bulldogs was Dec. 10. 2011 when MSU came out on top 74-67 at Gonzaga.
Gonzaga is led by head coach Mark Few in his 23rd season. Along with Few comes senior forward Drew Timme, a household name in NCAA basketball and a standout on the team.
Timme led in scoring against North Florida (22 points), playing 28 minutes where he went 10-19 in field goals.
Timme has set several records during his time as a Bulldog and is one of the top players in the country. Timme started in all 32 games his junior season.
For most of the Spartans, they watched this game on television in middle school and remember the excitement from the 2011-2012 team broadcasted from the ship.
Junior guard A.J. Hoggard recalls watching the game against North Carolina at the age of 12. He’s grateful for this full-circle opportunity 11 years later.
“It’s definitely a once in a lifetime moment that doesn’t come around as often,” Hoggard said. “To get to be a part of something like this is special. Getting the opportunity to play a No. 2 team and show the world where we stand on the totem pole means a lot.”
Friday’s game will be the first time most of the team has played organized basketball outside in a while.
Hoggard said the last time for him was about three years ago.
“It’s different than playing inside but I think I'm used to it," Hoggard said. "We probably won’t have to make that many adjustments. It’s basketball at the end of the day. I just look at it as another basketball game, another opportunity to go out there and play hard.”
The Armed Forces classic is just the beginning of a daunting few weeks with matchups that will evaluate MSU’s abilities early on in the season.
"It’s definitely gonna be a test,” senior guard Tyson Walker said. “Just sticking together, you never know what’s going to happen. Big venues, big games.”
MSU will head to San Diego on Wednesday. Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m. eastern and the highly anticipated matchup will be televised on ESPN.
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