A benefit to playing in the Veterans Classic in Annapolis, Md., is the off-the-court experiences available nearby.
Visiting teams usually get a behind-the-scenes tour of the Naval Academy, which the Wichita State men’s basketball team took part in on Thursday morning.
But the Shockers received an even more special treat on Wednesday, with a tour of the White House and a surprise meeting with President Donald Trump, courtesy of an invitation extended by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a Wichita State basketball enthusiast and former Wichita businessman who was elected to the House of Representatives in 2010.
Trump shook hands with the Shockers and briefly chatted them up about their season before posing for a team picture.
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“To be able to meet any President is a humbling experience,” WSU athletic director Darron Boatright said. “I think we should all appreciate the office of the President and the people who are serving in that capacity at the time. That was something you never know if you get another chance to do. It’s something where we took it to heart.”
According to WSU coach Gregg Marshall earlier this week, the team was also slated to take part in a special dinner with Pompeo and his wife, Susan, who worked diligently with WSU director of basketball operations Dominic Okon to schedule Wednesday’s events. WSU even purchased suits with yellow ties for all of its players for the White House visit.
On the way out of town back to Annapolis, WSU took a bus tour of the monuments around Washington D.C.
“The boys are going to be dressed up for this event,” Marshall said. “Hopefully we’ll get up there and represent well on and off the court.”
Boatright was impressed by how attentive the WSU players were during the tours. They weren’t taking the experience for granted. They asked questions. They appreciated the history.
For a team with so much youth, it was an eye-opening experience and one that brought the players closer together off the court.
“It was fascinating to see how engaged our young men were in the entire tour and the statues and the monuments,” Boatright said. “That was really neat to see. So now we have to continue to educate them on just how special of a day that was. They have an idea. They know it was pretty cool. But they should know they got to see some things and go to places that very few people in the world have ever visited.”
Thursday was another action-packed day, as WSU spent most of the morning and early afternoon on the behind-the-scenes tour at the Naval Academy. The players ate in the dining hall and talked to those in the Navy about their day-to-day routine.
Marshall was also able to connect with his predecessor at WSU, Mark Turgeon, who was there with his Maryland team. The Terps play Navy in the nightcap on Friday.
“We get to experience what it’s like to be a cadet at the Naval Academy,” Marshall said. “The whole day is so that we can watch those guys do what they do. That will be a valuable experience, I hope.”
WSU was recruited to the Veterans Classic event by Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk as soon as the Shockers were accepted into the American Athletic Conference. Navy tries to make sure an AAC team is involved in the event and Boatright said the invitation this year was a “welcoming” into the conference by Navy, which competes in the AAC in football.
“This whole thing is educational, and that’s the way it should be,” Boatright said. “Chet wanted to make sure we came up here and participated in this as quickly as possible. These past two days have been very educational and that will really be tough to parallel.”
“It will be exciting for me,” Marshall said earlier this week. “I’ve never done these type of things. I’m 55 years old and lived on the East Coast for most of my life and I’ve never been able to do those things.”
The Shockers will cap off their three-day road trip with the game Friday night. WSU (0-1) will play Providence (1-0) at 5 p.m. Central time in Alumni Hall. The game will be nationally broadcast on CBS Sports Network.
“It will be a wonderful experience, but I don’t know about the 40 minutes of the game” Marshall said. “Providence is really good. (Coach Ed Cooley) does a wonderful job with their program. Every year they’re tough and competing for NCAA wins.”