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MSU basketball team to play game at Pearl Harbor in '16

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Honoring the military has become almost as big a part of Michigan State basketball as playing in Final Fours.

That will continue in 2016 when the Spartans play in a game to remember the attack on Pearl Harbor. Michigan State will play in the final Armed Forces Classic on Nov. 11 of that year, taking on Arizona as part of a doubleheader that includes a game between Indiana and Kansas.

The event, announced by ESPN, will originate from the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Honolulu a few weeks shy of the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

"Appreciation for the men and women of our armed forces is at the forefront of our thought process," athletic director Mark Hollis said. "It gives our student-athletes the opportunity to be with other individuals their same age that are students and be able to have a respect for what they do. At the same time it allows our school, fans, alumni to embrace our armed forces in a positive way."

This is the second time the Spartans have been part of the Armed Forces Classic, playing in the inaugural event against Connecticut at Ramstein Air Base in Germany in 2012.

"We've been fortunate to play in some unbelievable events over the years, but the opportunity to play at Pearl Harbor is a unique opportunity," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said in a statement. "As coaches and teams we talk about hard work, overcoming adversity and sacrifice. This will be a chance to pay tribute in our own little way to the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we might enjoy the freedoms we still enjoy today.'"

Michigan State has been involved in its share of events honoring the military, including tonight's game against Navy in the Veterans Classic. It has also played North Carolina on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson and in 2009 it played a game at The Citadel, a military school in Charleston, S.C.

The appreciation Hollis has for the armed forces began during his time working for the Western Athletic Conference. Frequenting cities like San Diego and Honolulu, he saw the effect the military life had on the families left behind.

"It hits your heart pretty hard," Hollis said. "That impacted me watching the families left on the dock as much as the men and women leaving on the ship. And I think anybody who sees the incidents happening all over the world, everyone wants to do something to show their appreciation and through sports we've been afforded that opportunity.

"We have an amazing opportunity to walk with those who have served. There's no question when you see the messages coming out from the academy and the positive interaction (our players) are having. It's a tremendous opportunity I wish everybody could have. It is life changing."

ESPN also announced Friday that the 2015 game will be held at the Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler in Okinawa, Japan, between Gonzaga and Pittsburgh.

The Armed Forces Classic started with the commitment to bring games to troops serving in all five branches of the military. After Michigan State and Connecticut played in the first game in Germany for the Air Force, Oregon and Georgetown plays last year for the Army at Army Garrison Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, South Korea.

Louisville and Minnesota will play tonight for the U.S. Coast Guard at the Air Station Borinquen in Puerto Rico. The last two games in the cycle are for the Marines and the Navy.