Gators getting in ship shape
Published: Friday, November 9, 2012 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 9, 2012 at 12:09 a.m.
JACKSONVILLE — Staring over the deck into Mayport Harbor, Florida junior forward Will Yeguete took his cell phone out of his pocket to click a few last-minute shots of some neighboring air craft carriers.
“Unbelievable,” Yeguete said during a pregame tour of the USS Bataan. “This is pretty amazing.”
No. 10 Florida opens its season against Georgetown in a critical non-conference matchup. But the Navy-Marine Corps Classic game also serves as a thank you prior to Veterans Day weekend to the men and women who protect this country.
“This is a game that is bigger, in my opinion, than any game that we've had the opportunity to play because of how this is being done” Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
Big words from a coach who has led the Gators to three Final Fours and two national championships in 17 seasons.
“To be on this ship, sharing a moment like this, means more than I can ever express,” Donovan said.
The Gators took a 30-minute tour of the ship before taking part in a pregame shootaround on the deck of the ship at Naval Station Mayport on Thursday night. During the tour, the Gators got a chance to interact with some of the Bataan crewmembers that will watch them play tonight.
“It was a privilege for us to meet them,” Florida senior guard Kenny Boynton said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
For Romeo Garcia III, it was an equally special opportunity. Garcia, a Division Officer on the Bataan, emerged with a signed Wilson basketball from both Florida and Georgetown players. Garcia, a Houston native, was a shooting guard at Navy from 2007-11.
Garcia was one of three former Navy players on the ship who worked out with Florida during Thursday's shootaround.
“It's going to be fun to get an opportunity to play a little ball,” Garcia said.
Florida started out cold during the light 30-minute shootaround before heating up. Freshmen Michael Frazier II and Dillon Graham looked best shooting the basketball in the early going. Assistant coach Matt McCall also made three straight 3-pointers during warmups, prompting someone to ask if he had any eligibility left.
“Good rims, so far,” Boynton said shortly after making a 3-pointer during the shoot-around.
Last-minute touches were being added to the court on the ship's flight deck on Thursday afternoon. Condensation on the floor is a concern, though a plan is in place for 14 volunteer kids to mop the court vigorously during timeouts or stoppages in play. Seating capacity will be around 3,800 with bleachers set up courtside and behind both baskets. Of the 3,800 seats, 1,000 are reserved for military personnel.
There also is promising news on the weather front. Bataan executive officer George Vassilakis said temperatures for tonight's 9 p.m. tip will be more mild than expected, ranging between 62 and 65 degrees. It will probably drop into the 50s during the course of the game.
“That's what our weather guessers have told us,” Vassilakis said. “But I use the word guesser.”
Vassilakis led the Florida team on the tour of ship. It was a special moment, considering the commanding officer became a Gator fan during the Spurrier years in the 1990s.
“Yes, I'm a little bit of a Gator fan,” Vassilakis said. “So it's been quite an honor to participate and to get to meet Coach Donovan. But more importantly the crew has really enjoyed the opportunity to come down here and experience Jacksonville … to get to participate in a sporting event like this one, it's truly historic.”
Vassilakis, who oversees a crew of 975 sailors, said he felt Donovan was as appreciative of the opportunity to meet the troops. The Bataan arrived in Jacksonville from Naval Station Norfolk last week. The ship has been undergoing maintenance since returning from a 10-and-a-half month deployment in February.
“It was two ways,” Vassilakis said. “For our crew, it was certainly a great opportunity to spend some time with players, but I also got to see the players of both teams up there with both of them, seeing what our young men and women are doing and seeing the sacrifices they make.”
Florida center Patric Young, a Jacksonville native, doesn't have any family members in the military. But he appreciates the sacrifices that the U.S. military and its families make to defend the country.
“I'm very appreciative that we get this opportunity, just to play in front of them, for sure because I know they spend long periods of time away from their families,” Young said. “Hopefully they have the sports they can keep up with and having this opportunity to watch us up close and play. It's just a great opportunity for us to perform for them, give back to them and it's an opportunity for them to have some fun.”
Georgetown arrived in Jacksonville on Wednesday night. Their team charter landed at Naval Station Mayport.
“What gets lost a lot among fanbases, maybe because of all the exposure that surrounds college basketball is that these are kids. Georgetown is a university, and this is a teaching process. They are learning,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “For these kids, this opportunity to come here and meet the sailors and marines on the Bataan, that is an incredible learning and teaching opportunity.”
Who: No. 10 Florida Gators (0-0) vs. Georgetown Hoyas (0-0)
When: 9 p.m.
Where: USS Bataan, Naval Station Mayport, Jacksonville
Gainesville TV: NBC Sports Network (Ch. 33, Cox Cable)
Gainesville radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Sr. 15.9 ppg, 2.7 apg
G Michael Frazier II 6-4 Fr. Did not play
G Mike Rosario 6-3 Sr. 6.6 ppg, 1.4 rpg
F Erik Murphy 6-10 Sr. 10.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Jr. 10.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg
GEORGETOWN PROBABLE STARTERS
F Greg Whittington 6-8 So. 4.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg
G Markel Starks 6-2 Jr. 7.1 ppg, 1.6 apg
F Otto Porter 6-8 So. 9.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg
F Nate Lubick 6-8 Jr. 3.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg
C Mikael Hopkins 6-9 So. 2.4 ppg, 1.1 rpg
Notes: Florida has won 21 straight season openers and is 16-0 in season openers under Billy Donovan. …The Gators are 2-2 all-time against Georgetown and 2-1 vs. the Hoyas under Donovan. Florida's last meeting against Georgetown was its 57-53 win in the 2006 Sweet 16 that was decided by a clutch Corey Brewer shot in the closing minutes. ... Florida has reached the Elite Eight for two seasons in a row and four times in its last seven seasons. … Georgetown returns two starters from a team that finished 24-9 and reached the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Returning starting forward Otto Porter led the Hoyas in rebounding (6.8 rpg) and field goal percentage (52.5 percent) last season. … With forward Casey Prather (concussion) out, the Gators may need big contributions from their freshmen off the bench. Freshman guard Michael Frazier II scored a team-high 21 points in UF's 101-71 exhibition win over Nebraska-Kearney, one of three freshmen who reached double figures in scoring during the game.
USS Bataan (LHD 5) Fast Facts
Commissioned: Sept. 20, 1997
Length: 844 feet
Deck length: 267 feet
Beam: 106 feet
Crew members: 975
Recent Missions: Provided humanitarian aid during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, earthquakes in Haiti in 2010.
History: Memorializes the valiant resistance of American and Filipino troops on the Bataan Peninsula in the dawning days of World War II. The resistance also was known as “The Bataan Death March.”