Michigan St.-North Carolina Preview

The aircraft carrier that buried Osama bin Laden at sea is ready

for the first college basketball game to be played on an active

flat top.

As long as the rain stays away from the Carrier Classic on the

flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson on Friday afternoon, coaches Tom

Izzo of Michigan State and Roy Williams of No. 1 North Carolina are

confident their teams will put on a great Veterans Day show for the

approximately 7,000 in the crowd, including the nation’s

basketball-fan-in-chief, President Barack Obama, plus a national TV


Izzo and Williams said they and their players were blown away

when they boarded the nuclear-powered carrier, which stretches

1,092 feet, weighs 95,000 tons and has four steam catapults that

can accelerate a jet fighter from 0 to 165 mph in just more than

two seconds.

”My first impression when I walked in far superseded whatever I

thought it could be, and we’ve been talking about this for seven or

eight years,” Izzo said Thursday aboard the carrier, which is

berthed at North Island Naval Air Station. ”If you could have seen

our players’ eyes as we walked in, you just had such an

appreciation for what we’re doing. It’s bigger than a game. It’s

bigger than North Carolina against Michigan State. It’s kind of a

dream come true for us. In a small, small way, I think we feel

we’re giving a little bit back and maybe recognizing the people

that deserve to be recognized, instead of just the athletes.”

The game, a rematch of the 2009 national championship game won

by North Carolina, was conceived to celebrate Veterans Day and

salute active-duty military personnel.

”Wow,” Williams said about his reaction to seeing the ship and

the basketball court. The island, which serves as the command

center for the ship and flight-deck operations, looms just 50 feet

from one end of the court. For some high enough in the stands,

there’s a view of the San Diego skyline across the bay.

Williams said his players’ eyes and mouths were wide open as

they walked around the flight deck after arriving in San Diego on


”This is a celebration,” Williams said. ”The basketball game,

from the tipoff till the final horn, we’re going to be working our

tails off about the game. But every single second prior to it and

as soon as the game’s final horn is over with, we’re thinking about

hopefully putting a smile on some people’s faces who represent our

country and serve our country.

”I’m as thrilled as I could possibly be,” Williams said.

”They’re not fake – I’ve got cold chills up here talking about it.

It’s the neatest thing that I’ve ever been involved with.”

Forecasts earlier in the week suggested that a storm might hit

around tipoff. But based on updated forecasts, the game will be

played on the flight deck, said Mike Whalen of Morale Entertainment

Foundation, which is organizing the game. Had the threat of rain

been greater, the game would have been moved below to the hangar


The coaches shrugged off suggestions that playing outdoors, with

possible wind gusts, would be a concern.

`’I would be willing to bet 90 percent of our players will be

thrilled to death to do something that nobody else has ever done,”

Izzo said. ”That’s the uniqueness of this, too. There are a lot of

great players, a lot of great programs, but you talk about a

memory-maker, there’s been no player that’s ever done something

like this. So if they want to play indoors, I hope they tell me

before the game; I’ll make sure I don’t play them. Unless it’s a


Added Williams: ”They can go downstairs and play 3-on-3. Nobody

will be watching.”

The court is surrounded by stadium-style seating, which

organizers hope will block any wind. No balls will be in danger of

bouncing into San Diego Bay.

The coaches think it’ll be neat playing outdoors.

”When Tommy and I played, we used to play outside,” Williams

said. ”But kids don’t play outside anymore. We better get a lot of

shooting in today and tomorrow because we haven’t been outside. He

may have outsmarted me, but we haven’t been outside.”

Said Izzo: ”My guys haven’t shot real well in the exhibitions.

I told them to shoot the exact same way and the wind will blow it


Tar Heels senior center Tyler Zeller said the coaches keep

teasing the players about who’s going to fall off the ship. At one

point, he worried that the massive carrier will move during the


”It is something that none of us have ever experienced,” he

said. ”I’m looking forward to it but I’m also a little nervous

about it. It’ll be fun to be able to give back to them and be able

to play a game in front of them.”

Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis, credited with

coming up with the idea for the game, said he was looking for a

”dramatic way to reach out” to the military.

By chance, the carrier that became available to host the game

was the one that conducted bin Laden’s burial at sea after he was

killed by Navy SEALs in a raid ordered by Obama.

Capt. Bruce H. Lindsey, the commanding officer of the flat top,

said neither he nor any of his sailors can talk about that


But Lindsey did say his daughter is a senior at Chapel Hill,

”so I just have to root for Chapel Hill.”

Magic Johnson and James Worthy will be honorary captains for

their alma maters.

When the Carl Vinson is at sea, following sports events – when

possible – is important for the crew, Lindsey said.

”They follow sports all the time, so much so that I have to

steer the ship so I get the satellite beam hitting us just right,”

he said.

AP Basketball Writer Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill, N.C.,

contributed to this report.