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More college basketball games planned for military ships, facilities

ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS NOV. 3-4 - FILE - In this Nov. 11 2011 file phothis image taken with fisheye

ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, NOV. 3-4 - FILE - In this Nov. 11, 2011, file photo, in this image taken with a fisheye lens, North Carolina forward Tyler Zeller (44) swats the rebound away from Michigan State center Adreian Payne, bottom, during the first half of the Carrier Classic NCAA college basketball game aboard the USS Carl Vinson in Coronado, Calif. It was a college basketball game like none before, played on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. The college hoops season will begin next Friday with three games afloat, two on aircraft carriers and one on an amphibious assault ship, and another in a hangar at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

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Updated: November 3, 2012 12:49PM

SAN DIEGO — It was a college basketball game like none before, played under a pinkish-purple twilight sky on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, with President Barack Obama sitting midcourt and thousands of sailors in the stands. Two fighter jets screamed overhead just as the national anthem finished.

A year after North Carolina beat Michigan State in the inaugural Carrier Classic on the USS Carl Vinson, which was used to bury Osama bin Laden at sea, the college hoops season will begin next Friday with three games afloat — one on an active Navy ship and two on decommissioned aircraft carriers — and another in a hangar at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

“It took eight years to get the first one and one year to get the next three,” said Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis, who several years ago came up with the idea of playing a game on a flat top to honor the military.

This year’s nautical matchups will be hard-pressed to match the atmosphere at last year’s Carrier Classic on San Diego Bay.

They’ll try, though.

From east to west, the games are:

◆ The Armed Forces Classic between Connecticut and No. 14 Michigan State at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Created by ESPN, it will tip off at approximately midnight local time, or 5 p.m. CST.

◆ The Carrier Classic on the USS Yorktown in Charleston, S.C., will feature a women’s game between No. 7 Notre Dame and No. 19 Ohio State, followed by a men’s game between No. 4 Ohio State and Marquette. The Yorktown is now a museum. The games are being promoted by Morale Entertainment Foundation, which put on last year’s game on the Carl Vinson.

◆ The Navy-Marine Corps Classic between Georgetown and No. 10 Florida in Jacksonville on the deck of the USS Bataan, an amphibious assault ship that’s being moved from its home port of Norfolk, Va., to Naval Station Mayport for the game, along with an escort ship, the USS Mesa Verde.

◆ The Battle on the Midway in San Diego will feature No. 9 Syracuse against No. 20 San Diego State on the USS Midway, also a museum.

Pulling off a game on an aircraft carrier is a task almost as big as the ships themselves.

They’re multimillion-dollar productions with lots of logistical hurdles. Then there’s wind and the threat of rain to worry about.

Coaches Steve Fisher of San Diego State and Billy Donovan of Florida have said they’d like to practice outside a time or two before their respective games.

At last year’s Carrier Classic, there were a few hiccups along the way to tipoff.

“Morale Entertainment had never put on a basketball game. The other side of it, I’ve never run an event on a warship,” Hollis said. “There had to be a lot of collaboration between the two. I would say, ‘This is the norm in college basketball.’ Then I had to listen to the norm on U.S. government property. There was a lot of give-and-take through the whole thing.”

North Carolina coach Roy Williams told his Tar Heels to prepare for little headaches and it would all be worth it in the end.

“I mean, standing on that ship, and the president of the United States is walking out on the ship and they’re playing the music,” Williams said. “You can see the sun’s about to set. I’m sitting there and at that moment I said, ‘Roy Williams, you’re one of the luckiest guys that’s ever walked on the earth.’ So all those little things really were really little.”

The teams had warmed up, but then had to wait as Obama boarded the ship, met with each team in its locker room and addressed the crowd.

Organizers told the coaches they had just a few minutes until tipoff. Williams and Michigan State coach Tom Izzo held their ground, insisting on — and getting — an additional 15 minutes for their players to warm up again. While the overriding theme was to honor the military, it was, after all, a regular-season game, and a marquee one at that.

At dusk, the game was stopped for the lowering of the colors.

“Other than the Final Four, winning the national championships, I enjoyed that experience more than any game I’ve ever been involved in,” Williams said. “There were some logistical things, there were some things that went on that were frustrating. But the game was so huge, and the feeling you got from the military people was so big, that it made all these other things seem so small ... compared to the love that I had for being there in front of our military, talking to our guys and girls, and the feel that I had.”

Less than an hour after the final buzzer, as the team buses were making their way off North Island Naval Air Station, it began to pour.

There was a backup court, lights and bleachers to be installed on the hangar deck in case of rain. But because the space would have accommodated only about 2,000 spectators, rather than the 8,111 who watched the game on the flight deck, Whalen spiked the backup plan a few days before the game.

If rain threatens any of the floating games this year, they’ll be played in local arenas.


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