Here in San Diego Michigan State Athletic Director Mark Hollis is watching his, “DREAM COME TRUE!”

Bill Marklevits

SAN DIEGO – “It is pretty cool!”, said Mark Hollis as he watched the Michigan State basketball team shoot around on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson.  The flight deck of the Nimitz class aircraft carrier CVN-70 which usually launches jet fighter aircraft has been transposed into the most unique basketball venue ever created.

Hollis first approached the Navy back in 2003, while MSU was playing in the NCAA Tournament in Orlando, Florida, proposing playing a college game on a aircraft carrier as way to honor the troops.

Some rough outlines were drawn out on paper, and Navy personnel were somewhat perplexed by the idea but a seed was planted. 

While working at the WAC (Western Athletic Conference) Hollis often accompanied football teams on navy ship visits in San Diego for the Holiday Bowl.   Hollis noticed the light in the eyes of the military personnel when the athletes visited and conversely the interest that student athletes showed for the military who are predominantly in the same 18-23 age bracket. 

In December 2004, as MSU played in Washington D.C. in the BB&T Tournament, Hollis and a small contingent of MSU personnel met with U.S. Navy officers at the Pentagon which started the process and when Mike Whalen and Morale Entertainment became involved in 2010, Hollis dream eventually became reality.  

The cost of the event runs about $2,000,000 all of which is being financed by Morale Entertainment through sponsorships, donations, and ESPN television revenue. “No government spending is involved, and I am not making one penny either” said Whalen .

Both Tom Izzo of MSU and Roy Williams of UNC have travelled overseas on military tours and immediately were on board with plans for a game that would honor the military both past and present. The location of the game didn’t matter to Izzo “West Coast, East Coast, Iraq, Lake Michigan the location doesn’t matter we just wanted to be a part of this new way to bring recognition to our military who do so much for us.”   

Morale Entertainment announced that UCONN and possibly Arizona will participate in a 2012 Carrier Classic, along with women’s teams from Ohio State and Notre Dame.  Whalen also announced that Michigan State is committed to play in the 2013 Carrier Classic.

It appears that the rainstorm headed for San Diego will hold off until after the game, and plans are moving ahead to play the game on the open flight deck.  Weather contingency plans called for moving the game to the massive ship hanger bay under the flight deck, but that would have reduced spectator seating from 7,000 to 2,000.

MSU players have toured the ship interacting with the navy sailors. Draymond Green checked out a typical sailor “rack”. The triple stacked bed living quarters that most sailors have on the Carl Vinson. “I hit my head going in, while in there, and getting out.  I have a lot of respect for these sailors. We just play basketball, these kids who are our age are involved in life and death situations.”  

The MSU players are excited to play an outdoor game in front of the military personnel and President Obama. Guard Russell Byrd said, “the sight lines on the outdoor court are no problem. This will not bother me at all, I am used to shooting outside.” 

Sophomore PG Keith Appling said, “I hope my shot is on, I don’t want to be shooting any air balls in front of the President.”  Freshman wing Branden Dawson said “I am going all out because it is my first game, if there is a loose ball that goes into the President, I’m going for it.” 

Draymond Green said “Our goal is to win the game, of course that is the first objective, but second we want to put on a good show and entertain all these military people.”

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