Preparations to set up for the Carrier Classic have been taking place throughout the week, with the construction of a full basketball court and bleachers seating 7,000 people on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson.
The weather seems to be cooperating – the anticipated Friday storm is expected to come in late, and the game has a 4 p.m. start. The bulk of the weekend rain is predicted to be coming in early Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.
If fickle Mother Nature defies the forecasts and sends rain during the game, a duplicate basketball court and bleachers seating 2,000 people are being constructed in the carrier's hanger bay.
“One of the things that you have to plan for with an event of this magnitude is weather. Unfortunately there is a probability of rain on Friday, so in the hanger deck we are building a duplicate deck, (with) smaller grand stands though,” said Thomas Lee, a co-founder of the Morale Entertainment Foundation, the event organizer.
“Our idea is not to turn anyone away, if that were to happen, on a random basis we will have people in sections come down and enjoy the game.”
Many aspects of the unique inaugural event, a match-up between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Michigan State Spartans, are being covered. USA Today offered an inside look at the USS Vinson, as did ESPN.
An ESPN anchor, Hannah Storm, offered a peek via Twitter at the network's set, built aboard the aircraft carrier.
The New York Times focused on the challenge Michigan State's coach issued to his players, by scheduling the game against a college basketball giant, North Carolina.
Locally, Navy personnel are psyched – and their enthusiasm is being rewarded.
Naval Aircrewman 3rd Class Marco Gilio and Naval Aircrewman 3rd Class Carlin Henderson have donated over 30 hours of their time assisting with construction. In return, the squadron will be giving them tickets.
“It is a really cool opportunity to be able to help set up for this event. I really enjoy being a part of this entire process,” said Gilio. “I can't wait for the game.”
The players' excitement is showing as well.
“When I first heard about the whole big idea of the carrier I was kinda nervous because this is a game that puts you to the test,” said Branden Dawson, a Michigan State guard. “This is something big for the program and the players.
“We're hyped and excited [to be in] this big atmosphere with the troops, the press and the millions of people that have a chance to watch the game.”
Both teams expressed their gratitude to be among the first players to participate in the classic.
“I'm so honored that they chose UNC to be able to go out there to San Diego and not only represent our school but also support the troops,” said Harrison Barnes, UNC Tar Heels Forward. “They do so much for us. They go out there and put their lives on the line every day.”
This opportunity will give the players from both teams the opportunity to interact with sailors and learn more about the military culture.
“We as basketball players get so much press so I think it's kinda nice to realize what this game is really about,” said Barnes. “It's not UNC versus Michigan State. It's about showing appreciation for our troops. A lot of wounded warriors are going to be there and I want to say thank you to them.”
Part of the criteria for the Carrier Classic was that it could not cost the taxpayers any money at all, said Lee. The Morale Entertainment Foundation, primarily a volunteer organization that aims to keep service members' spirits up, has undertaken all of the potential liabilities, which cost millions of dollars.
City News Service, Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Shannon Burns, Defense Media Activity, and Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Amanda Huntoon, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West, contributed to this report.