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Obama to attend Carrier Classic on Carl Vinson

By Bernie Wilson
AP Sports Writer / October 13, 2011

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SAN DIEGO—President Barack Obama, the nation's basketball-fan-in-chief, will have the seat of his choice at the Carrier Classic hoops game on Veterans Day on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson, the aircraft carrier that buried Osama bin Laden at sea.

The White House announced Thursday that Obama has accepted an invitation to attend the Nov. 11 matchup between North Carolina and Michigan State, the first college basketball game on an active flat top.

The Carl Vinson and its sailors have attracted considerable attention since early May, when the carrier conducted bin Laden's burial at sea after he was killed by Navy SEALs in a raid ordered by Obama.

It'll be an impossible ticket, except for the lucky 7,000 or so who will be granted permission to come aboard the 1,092-foot, nuclear-powered carrier. Most of the tickets will go to active military personnel. Tickets won't be sold to the public.

Obama can sit "wherever he wants," said Mike Whalen of the Morale Entertainment Foundation, which is organizing the game.

The president, a huge hoops fan, will be in his element, even if it is an unusual venue for big-time basketball.

Known for playing pickup games, Obama needed 12 stitches in his lip after he was inadvertently elbowed during such a scrimmage last November. His brother-in-law, Craig Robinson, is the coach at Oregon State. Obama has filled out an NCAA tournament bracket the last three years for ESPN, which will televise the Carrier Classic.

Plus, he has a history with the Tar Heels.

Obama played a pickup game with UNC's players during a 2008 campaign stop. The following spring, he correctly picked the Tar Heels to win the 2009 NCAA title -- which they did by routing Michigan State -- and then hosted them at the White House.

Tar Heels coach Roy Williams was excited to hear Obama will be at the Carrier Classic.

"My guess is he wouldn't be there unless things in the world were in good shape," Williams said with a grin at preseason media day. "So I hope he can stick to that commitment and be there.

"This is one of the biggest thrills in my coaching career, to be involved in that kind of game," Williams said. "It really is as neat of a deal as you can possibly imagine."

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said he was pleased to learn the president will be there.

"I think it's awesome," Izzo said in a telephone interview. "The fact that he's a basketball fan makes it even more neat."

Izzo said Michigan State gave Obama a basketball jersey when he made a campaign visit to East Lansing.

Obama is scheduled to begin Veterans Day by laying a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery before flying to San Diego.

"He looks forward to a great game," the White House said in a statement.

Whalen said there will be appropriate security considering the dignitaries who are expected to attend. Besides Obama, top Navy officials and congressional delegations from North Carolina and Michigan have been invited. A postgame concert is scheduled, but organizers haven't announced the acts.

James Worthy and Magic Johnson will serve as honorary captains for their alma maters.

The carrier, which has been in San Francisco for Fleet Week, will be at its berth at North Island Naval Air Station. To the south is Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, where SEALs train. Across San Diego Bay is Naval Base San Diego.

The court, surrounded by temporary stadium-style seating, will be located between the island and the forward catapults. In case of rain, the game will be moved below to the hangar deck.

Navy officials got the news on the sea service's 236th birthday.

"We're honored that President Obama plans to attend the game on the Carl Vinson," said Rear Admiral Dennis Moynihan, the Navy's chief spokesman. "The ship is a representative of more than 100 Navy ships that are deployed right now. We see this as a celebration of service for all veterans, and we also see this as a great opportunity to showcase what our Navy does on a daily basis."

Whalen, a former Marine, was happy, too.

"We're excited that President Obama would even consider showing up. We feel like we won the lottery," he said.

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

The Carrier Classic is sponsored by Quicken Loans.

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AP Basketball Writer Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill, N.C., and AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Detroit contributed to this report.