TUSCALOOSA Mark Gottfried returned from a week-long USO Trip to Kuwait last August and declared it was one of the “most rewarding experiences” of his lifetime. May 23-29, 2006 the University of Alabama basketball coach will again return to the area, this time with reinforcements in the form of more coaches for Operation Hardwood II. On Tuesday the USO and Armed Forces Entertainment announced the second tour and the college basketball coaches who will participate.
The participants will coach military basketball teams featuring the best military players who will compete in a championship tournament.
“Obviously I’m thrilled to be a part of this for another year,” said Gottfried who was one of the trip’s organizers last summer. “Last year’s trip was life-changing and impactful and I m just as excited to return this year. We’ve got a great group of coaches going again, and I’m sure the troops will be excited and appreciate what we’re trying to do. I know that for those of us who participated last year, it was an event we will never forget, something we are proud to have been a part of, and I think the proof is in how many of us are returning.”
The group going to the Persian Gulf later this month includes: Rick Barnes, University of Texas; Jay Bilas, ESPN commentator and former Duke University player; Jim Crews, U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y.; Mark Gottfried, University of Alabama; Tom Izzo, Michigan State University; Billy Lange, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md.; Bobby Lutz, University of North Carolina, Charlotte; Reggie Minton, NCAA; Dave Odom, University of South Carolina; Kelvin Sampson, University of Indiana; Tubby Smith, University of Kentucky; and Gary Williams, University of Maryland. FoxSports broadcaster Leeann Tweeden is also accompanying the “Operation Hardwood II,” marking her eighth USO/EFE tour.
Six of the participants Gottfried, Odom, Lutz, Izzo, Sampson and Bilas are veterans of Operation Hardwood I and were inspired to become involved again on this year’s tour. Last year’s original group of eight also included Bobby Cremmins and Mike Jarvis. This tour continues the USO tradition of bringing professional athletes and sports-related events to troops serving far from home. Last year, NBA Legends Artis Gilmore and Darryl Dawkins visited military personnel serving in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
Gilmore, Gail Goodrich, Spencer Haywood and Dan Roundfield also brought the Larry O’Brien Trophy to Troops in Kuwait last May. NBA Legends and players soon will begin a stateside USO tour, visiting military bases and holding festivals for service members and their families. Tours are sponsored by AT&T, Inc., the official telecommunications sponsor of USO entertainment tours.