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Friday June 15, 2012Gators Set to Face Georgetown in Navy/Marines Corps Classic on Aircraft Carrier

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Coach Billy Donovan’s troops may want to add some red and white to that orange-and-blue color scheme in time for the Gators basketball season opener next fall.

Florida and Georgetown will tip-off the 2012-13 college basketball season on the deck of an aircraft carrier Nov. 9 -- the start of Veteran’s Day weekend -- at Naval Station Mayport, Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown and Secretary of Navy Ray Mabus announced in a joint news conference Friday at Jacksonville City Hall.

Dubbed, the “Navy/Marines Corps Classic,” the event was put together by Alan Verlander, executive director of Sports and Entertainment for the City of Jacksonville, and figures to mirror the patriotic spectacle and salute to the nation’s military the likes of which were on display when North Carolina and Michigan State played on the U.S.S. Carl Vinson -- with President Obama on board -- in San Diego Bay last year.

“Just being able to do this in our own state, in front of the people who wear the uniform and protect the freedoms we have in this country, I just think it’s a great honor and I truly appreciate that they would want our program for a game like this,” Donovan said from Brazil, where he’s preparing a Team USA Basketball squad for the FIBA Americas U-18 Championship tournament. “It’ll just be an incredible experience.”

And it will only add to what was already the most ambitious men’s basketball schedule ever put together by the Gators, who are coming off a second straight trip to the NCAA Elite Eight and return three starters (and four top reserves) from a team that finished 26-11.

In addition to Georgetown, which like UF is expected to be a top 20 team next season, the Gators will play non-conference home games against Wisconsin, Marquette and Central Florida; road games at Florida State, Arizona and Yale; plus Kansas State, Middle Tennessee State and a to-be-determined Orange Bowl Classic at neutral sites.

Throw in, of course, the Southeastern Conference slate that will feature two dates against reigning national champion Kentucky, along with new league members Missouri and Texas A&M.

“Despite knowing we had this bear of a schedule, when Billy heard about this opportunity he wanted to play the best team we could get -- and we got Georgetown,” UF senior associate athletic director Mike Hill said. “It’s going to be a special day for our program; a day our players, coaches and fans will never forget.”

The Commander In Chief could be in attendance for the game, results of the general election three days earlier pending. The N/MCC will be one of three games played on naval ships that day, with Marquette facing Ohio State off the coast of Charleston, S.C., and Syracuse taking on San Diego State on the deck of the USS Midway in San Diego Bay.

For now, just knowing the Gators are in the Veterans Day weekend mix is exciting enough.

“Florida is our friend and our partner in lot of different things we do here,” Verlander said. “There are so many Gator fans here in Northeast Florida, so for a game like this -- of this magnitude and exposure -- it only adds to the buzz and the overall atmosphere for a high-class event.”

Verlander served as athletic director at Jacksonville University before joining the city staff last month. Even before he took over the post, Verlander had heard an aircraft carrier was headed to Mayport this fall and his very first day on the job was spent putting the wheels in motion for what figures to be the River City’s most special single-day sporting event since Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005.

“Nothing like getting your feet wet the first day on the job, right?” Verlander said. “To work with the Navy and both of these great institutions to put together something like this, it’s just very, very humbling.”

All proceeds for the game will go to veterans causes, including a transitional housing fund for servicemen returning from overseas deployment.

The game will likely be televised nationally, with one the ESPN family of networks a possible destination.

“I think the level of excitement for our whole program will be off the charts. What a great way to start the season,” Hill said. “It’ll draw tremendous attention to basketball in early November, and having spoken to people at Michigan State and North Carolina, it was a memory of a lifetime.”

That game, dubbed the “Carrier Classic,” featured both the Spartans and Tar Heels decked out in camouflage uniforms. Tip-off was at twilight in the cool California night before a crowd of 8,000 mostly servicemen and women. The Tar Heels won 67-55.


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