UConn to play in 2012 Carrier Classic

SAN DIEGO -- Three-time national champion Connecticut has signed a deal with the Morale Entertainment Foundation to play in the second edition of the Carrier Classic basketball game in 2012 aboard an aircraft carrier on San Diego Bay.

Mike Whalen, director of the Morale Entertainment Foundation, said Friday that UConn's opponent could be Kansas, Texas, Florida, Arizona or Illinois. That game will be played Nov. 9, 2012.

The inaugural Carrier Classic will be played this Nov. 11 -- Veterans Day -- between North Carolina and Michigan State on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson at North Island Naval Air Station, across the bay from downtown San Diego. The Carl Vinson and its sailors have attracted considerable attention since early May, when the carrier was used to bury Osama bin Laden at sea after he was killed by Navy SEALs.

It will be the first NCAA hoops game on an active flat top. The court will be surrounded by stadium-style seating for about 7,000 fans, with most of the tickets going to active military personnel.

Coach Jim Calhoun and UConn President Susan Herbst said it's an honor to be picked for the second Carrier Classic. Organizers won't know until much closer to that game which carrier it will be held on.

"I think it's an incredible honor," Calhoun said in a phone interview. "I think it's an event that hopefully will give our kids a better understanding of just how important our country is."

Calhoun said he's made several overseas trips to visit troops, and that playing on a ship will be just as important.

"These are all great learning experiences. I can't imagine a better learning experience than to see those guys on that ship, who are protecting our country," he said.

Herbst said one of UConn's trustees who knew Whalen suggested she pursue a spot in the game.

"To me, it sounded like the coolest thing, to be able to celebrate our veterans on the aircraft carrier," Herbst said. "It sounded so unique and amazing that we just couldn't pass it up. To both celebrate our veterans and also the men and women who are in the service now is central to our mission at UConn. We think this really fits with our values and our mission."

Calhoun's teams have won national titles -- including the 2011 championship behind Kemba Walker -- in front of massive crowds. The coach said it shouldn't be much different playing in such a unique setting.

"It's a basketball game, and I'm assuming everything will be taken care of. As long as the baskets are 10 feet high, we'll be more than fine," Calhoun said.

Also Friday, former Congressmen Jim Marshall of Georgia and Gene Taylor of Mississippi were named co-chairmen of the 2011 Carrier Classic.

Morale Entertainment Foundation, which hopes to help raise the visibility of the Navy by organizing the Carrier Classic, brings notable Americans, such as former astronauts Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan and Jim Lovell, and coaches and race car drivers to visit troops in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

"Let's face it, there are some crummy places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and they do appreciate the visits," Taylor said. "They want to see a friendly face. I've got to believe that for an 18- or 19-year-old kid to meet Mack Brown or a driver is a great thrill.

"We just can't do enough for those guys," Taylor said. "If you think about life on a carrier, they're at sea for months at a time. To make their life easier when they're home is a great thing. I think this will be a great opportunity for the troops on the ship that day to see a great basketball game."