Published November 08, 2012
RAMSTEIN, Germany – Having started last season on an aircraft carrier, Michigan State has gone abroad this year and will open against the University of Connecticut in an Air Base hangar in Germany that usually houses fighter jets.
Both teams are staying at the sprawling Ramstein Air Base in southwestern Germany and that's where the Armed Forces Classic will be played, with the tip-off around midnight Friday local time.
After arriving in Germany on Thursday on separate overnight flights, both teams visited a military medical facility that treats servicemen and servicewomen wounded in places such as Afghanistan.
On Friday, the military gave the teams separate tours aboard two C-130 cargo planes, which circled low over the area on 45-minute flights.
Both teams also found time to practice late on both days before the game and give basketball clinics to kids, both of which could help to shake off some jet lag.
The military experience could be valuable, as Michigan State found out last year.
Going into the season unranked, the Spartans lost to No. 1 North Carolina in the Carrier Classic aboard the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego. But the Spartans then won the Big Ten regular season and tournament championships to earn a No. 1 seeding in the NCAA tournament.
The Spartans have won 33 of their last 35 openers.
Tom Izzo, entering his 18th year as the Spartans head coach, believes being close to the military discipline will help his players pay attention to details.
"I think it will give (our players) a different perspective on how attention to details is important to them," he said. "It's a way of life. They (soldiers) have to be that way. It's not an option. I think those kinds of things will help and team time is important too.
"They will be on an airplane together for eight hours, they will be in a hotel together. It's part of the team-building process and why not do it at the beginning of the year when it's the most important time," Izzo said.
There is a lot of team-building ahead for UConn.
The Huskies don't have a chance to play in the postseason after failing to meet NCAA academic standards. They don't have the five players who left the program early after the postseason ban was announced. And they don't have Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun, who retired in September.
After a disappointing 20-14 season that ended with a loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament a year after winning their third national title, the Huskies have a new head coach in Kevin Ollie.
"Nobody thinks we're good enough," said sophomore guard Ryan Boatright, one of just five players with notable playing time returning from last year's team.
"But we feel like we've got enough here to have a successful season and to open a lot of people's eyes this year, and to prove everybody wrong. I feel that's the chip we've got on our shoulders, to prove the world wrong."
Although this is the Huskies' first game in Europe, it's a trip back home for their three German players, Niels Giffey, Leon Tolksdorf and Enosch Wolf.