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Tuesday December 3, 2013Gators Part of Loaded Field at 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- At first glance, it looks like a chunk of an NCAA Tournament bracket. 


Instead, it’s the eight-team field for the 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis, the Thanksgiving weekend tournament that next year will bring some of the nation’s premier basketball programs, including the University of Florida, to the exotic resort in Paradise Island, Bahamas. 


The Gators will be joined in the eight-team field by North Carolina, UCLA, Georgetown, Wisconsin, Butler, Oklahoma and Alabama-Birmingham. 


Ironically, it will come 10 years after the Gators were set to make their first visit to Atlantis. The team was set to travel to the Bahamas for an international trip in September of 2004 before it was postponed due to a hurricane (the Gators made the trip up in 2006, traveling to Canada instead).


And yes, Florida fans, an announcement and details on travel packages is in the works. 


“The organizers of the event approached us a couple years ago to gauge our interest and obviously it was a pretty short discussion, especially when we heard about the other participants,” said Mike Hill, UF’s executive associate athletic director for external affairs. “That’s a big-time field and we felt like we needed to be a part of that.” 


ESPN and Battle 4 Atlantis just signed a three-deal deal to televise the event from the Atlantis Imperial Arena. Villanova won the 2013 tournament last week, beating Southern Cal, upsetting second-ranked Kansas and defeating Iowa in overtime in the title game. 


Consider this the latest step in Coach Billy Donovan’s commitment to play one of the best non-conference schedules in the country, with the Gators having gone to Ohio State, Syracuse, Arizona and Kansas State the previous two years, and to Wisconsin and Connecticut -- two of college basketball’s prime venues -- in the first three weeks of the 2013-14 regular season. 


Next week, UF plays host to Kansas as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge and a week later goes to New York City to face Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden. Both games will be televised by ESPN. 


“The fact that our fans have been able to dial into Gators basketball in November and December on national TV, that matters,” Hill said. “We’ve seen what these games have done for us come March when the [NCAA Tournament] seeds come out -- that’s been a given -- but these events really to generate some momentum for recruiting and fan interest.” 


On the subject of the latter, how’s this for fan interest?  


The tournament will be played on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of the Thanksgiving holidays, with each team guaranteed three games. All games will be played on the Atlantis resort premises, where organizes put up a temporary arena in in the middle of the world’s largest open-air marine habitat, complete with lavish guest accommodations.


The last time the Gators took a luxurious tournament trip like this was to the Maui Invitational during the 1999-2000 season. 


This one is closer, just as exotic, and figures to be as competitive as any non-conference event out there.


“Billy and his coaches will tell you that you learn a lot more about your team in Storrs, Connecticut or Madison, Wisconsin -- or against great teams even in the Bahamas -- than being at home and beating a team you’re supposed to beat by 30,” Hill said after Monday night’s buzzer-beating loss at UConn. “You have to have a few games where you’re favored to win at home and get your young guys some experience, but we’ve already been to two of the toughest environments anybody will face all year.” 


The “environment” in Atlantis may not be so tough, but the basketball figures to be special. 


The perks for the fans speak for themselves. 




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