No. 10 Florida, Georgetown embrace unique opener
One of the first things Florida coach Billy Donovan did upon boarding the USS Bataan was ask about touring the gun turret.
Forget the wind, the open-air backdrop, the chilly temperatures and potential court condensation.
This was bigger than basketball, and Donovan knew it.
"To be on this ship, sharing a moment like this, means more than I can ever express," Donovan said.
No. 10 Florida and Georgetown were thrilled to be part of the once-in-a-lifetime event - Friday's season opener on the deck of an ambitious assault ship.
Both teams toured the 844-foot Bataan on Thursday, posing for pictures and talking to everyone wearing a uniform and taking part in the Navy-Marine Corps Classic. Donovan even invited three former Navy basketball players assigned to the Bataan to help run shoot-around.
Georgetown coach John Thompson III was equally taken back.
"For these kids to get the opportunity to come here and meet the sailors and the Marines that are on the Bataan," said Thompson, "most of them, if not all of them, would never get this opportunity. Georgetown is a learning institute; that's part of our job."
Donovan handled a much different part of the job Thursday.
He suspended starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin indefinitely for an undisclosed reason.
Donovan declined to divulge what the 6-foot-2 junior did, but said it wasn't anything criminal or anything that would be considered an NCAA violation.
Donovan said "information was brought to me" early Thursday that led to the suspension.
"You've got a group of 12 other guys that are looking to see how a coach is going to respond with what's right and what's wrong," Donovan said. "This was the right decision to have him not be a part of this game because he needs to understand there's a level of accountability and responsibility that he has being part of this team.
"It's important for our guys to understand there's a commitment you have to make each and every day - on the court, off the court, in school and in every aspect of your life."
The Gators, who have won 21 consecutive season openers, also will be without swingman Casey Prather. He sustained his second concussion in nine days this week. Throw in the unexpected departure of forward Cody Larson last month and Florida will be playing with five returning players and four freshmen against Georgetown.
"He has enough pieces where he can quickly substitute and make changes," Thompson said. "They're down two quality players, and all that means is two other quality players are going to get minutes."
Coaches have plenty of other worries.
Temperatures were expected to dip into the 50s and wind could be a factor. Plus, there's a chance condensation would build cause slippery conditions on the outdoor court.
"Whether there's wind or how the lighting is, both teams are going to have to be dealing with that," Donovan said. "I don't think anybody gets an advantage. ... The only thing that could interrupt the game is if you've got guys slipping and sliding like an ice skating rink."
Officials tested the court Wednesday night and found no issues. Just to be safe, though, they will have more than a dozen workers drying the court during timeouts.
"I'm telling my guys it's not going to affect you at all," Thompson said. "The backdrop's not going to affect you, the weather's not going to affect you. That's how we're approaching it."
Kind of a "Hoosiers" speech?
"We're going to get (a tape measure)," Thompson added.
Florida and Georgetown haven't played since the NCAA tournament's round of 16 in 2006, a game the Gators won on Corey Brewer's circus shot in the final minute.
That victory helped Florida get to the Final Four, where the Gators won the first of back-to-back national championships.
Playing on the Bataan could be even more memorable.
"This is a game that is bigger in my opinion than any game we've had the opportunity to play," Donovan said.
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