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
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
”My first impression when I walked in far superseded whatever I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,”
AP Basketball Writer Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill, N.C.,
contributed to this report.