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Tuesday September 11, 2012UF Staff Gets Advance Look at Logistics of U.S.S. Bataan

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

NORFOLK, Va. -- In a mess galley in the massive iron belly of the U.S.S. Bataan last week, Mike Hill addressed a room full of Naval officers, officials from the city of Jacksonville and members of traveling parties from both the University of Florida and Georgetown University.

Speaking on behalf of UF, the executive associate athletic director for external affairs eloquently expressed how proud the institution was to have been chosen to play a basketball game -- the Gators vs. the Hoyas -- to tip off Veterans Day weekend on the deck of an amphibious assault ship docked just outside Jacksonville.

"We are truly honored to be a part of this great event," Hill said.

The floor was then thrown to Brian McGuire, representing Georgetown, who echoed Hill's sentiments.

With an aside.

"Playing Florida on a ship in Florida is going to be tough," said McGuire, the Hoyas' Associate AD for facilities, operations and game management. "But the Secretary of the Navy, I must mention, resides in Washington, D.C."

The competitive juices of two of the nation's best basketball programs figures to be far less playful when the Gators and Hoyas throw it up the night of Nov. 9 at in the Navy/Marines Corps Classic at Naval Station Mayport.

In the interim, both sides are getting a head start on what figures to be a one-for-the-ages spectacle, as was the case when North Carolina and Michigan tipped off the 2011 college season on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson in San Diego (with the nation's Commander in Chief sitting courtside, no less).

Last Wednesday, advance teams from the two schools, along with Jacksonville representatives charged with staging the game, went to Norfolk, where the Bataan has been docked since February, and spent four hours touring the ship in what amounted to a fact-finding and familiarization mission.

What those teams saw was an 844-foot-long, 15-story-high vessel with a crew of 1,200 and the capability of holding 30 aircraft and 130 tanks.

"It's basically a city afloat," said Capt. Erik. M. Ross, the Bataan's commanding officer.

In two months, it'll be something else.

"We're constructing a basketball arena out of nothing," said Michael Bouda, sports and entertainment manager for the city of Jacksonville. "And it's going to be a $4 billion basketball arena."

The temporary arena is expected to seat a crowd of around 3,700, mostly retired servicemen and women. Another 6,000 or so will attend a live concert 50 yards from the ship and watch the game on a giant screen.

These are facts and figures everyone already knew. The day trip to Norfolk allowed those involved to visualize how it will all come together.

"For months we have been planning on pieces of paper," said Alan Verlander, executive director of sports and entertainment the city of Jacksonville. "Now, we can take the work on that paper and begin applying to actual material."

About 43,000 tons worth of material.

Representing the Gators on the junket were Hill, who oversees the University Athletic Association's external initiatives, assistant athletics director for operations Jack Pfaff, athletic trainer Dave "Duke" Werner and assistant to the head coach Darren Hertz.

Each was guided to specific areas on the ship relative to their function. Pfaff, for example, needed to see how the teams and traveling parties were going to be moved on and off the ship. Werner was taken to the sick bays for what will become his training area to tape and prep the players. Hertz got to see the plan for makeshift locker and dressing rooms.

"This was really helpful," Hertz said. "Now we can go back and explain to the team what they can expect when they finally do get here."

Hill was all over the ship, including the massive cargo bay where the press conferences will be held, with the St. John's River, lined with a small fleet of light destroyers, as a backdrop.

So instead of boarding the ship blind the day before -- for what no doubt will be a wild and wide-eyed outdoor shoot-around for the Gators -- key members of the staff will know exactly what the logistics will be and can brief the players.

Memo to Patric Young (6-foot-9), Erik Murphy (6-10) and Will Yeguete (6-7): Duck your heads when walking through the ship's corridors.

"From an operations perspective for our basketball team, this was necessary and really beneficial in giving us a sense of what we're going to be dealing with" Hill said. "It's a completely different environment than anything we've ever seen before, so certainly it's going to be unique and fun in that sense, but also very different."

Like once-in-a-lifetime different. Though not without a smidgeon of familiarity.

More like irony.

The Bataan is part of the U.S. Navy's amphibious assault fleet, capable of discharging massive tanks and heavy equipment onto a beach without the use of a crane. The fleet goes by another name.

The Gator Navy.

"That's an omen right there," Hill said. "A great omen."


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