Operation Hardwood: Episode 4

In 2006, a group of elite coaches participated in Operation Hardwood II, coaching basketball teams in Kuwait, and participating in combat drills, tank simulations, and visited injured troops in the hospital.

In the fourth and final installment of FOX Sport’s series on Operation Hardwood, host Leeann Tweeden and Maryland head coach Gary Williams take a look back at their time in Kuwait with the USO’s own Operation Hardwood.  And you can still catch up on Episode 1, Episode 2, and Episode 3 any time you want!

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Operation Hardwood: Episode 3

The USO and AFE sent top NCAA basketball coaches and sports personalities on a tour to Kuwait where they coached military basketball teams as part of Operation Hardwood II. University of Maryland coach Gary Williams spent time coaching Kuwaiti kids at a practice session at The Kuwaiti Basketball Club in 2006.

In this week’s installment, host Leeann Tweeden and Maryland head coach Gary Williams take a look back at their time in Kuwait with the USO’s own Operation Hardwood.  Be sure to watch Episode 1 and Episode 2, too!


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Operation Hardwood: Episode 2

University of Texas basketball coach Rick Barnes and former U.S. Air Force Academy basketball coach and current deputy executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches Reggie Minton wear helmets and body armor as they take part in a training exercise to escape from an overturned Humvee at Camp Arifjan, May 27, 2006, during Operation Hardwood II.

Join Leeann Tweeden, coach Rick Barnes, and many more for the second in a four-part series from FOX Sports on Operation Hardwood II.  Click here to watch Episode 1 and learn more about Operation Hardwood!

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Operation Hardwood – Hoops with the Troops: Episode 1

In 2006, 12 NCAA basketball coaches traveled to Kuwait to coach soldiers in a March Madness-style basketball tournament as part of "Operation Hardwood II."

Operation Hardwood was created in by the USO in 2005 to boost morale and bring a touch of home to those in uniform.  The USO has a long tradition of bringing sports figures and sports-related events to troops overseas,“Operation Hardwood” has deployed more than 35 NCAA basketball coaches and sports personalities to Kuwait and Japan.

In 2006, a group of elite coaches participated in “Operation Hardwood II,” coaching the basketball teams in Kuwait, and participating in combat drills, tank simulations, and visited injured troops in the hospital.
As part of a special four-part series, FOX Sports is looking back at this unique USO trip to see how it changed the lives of the soldiers and the coaches.  Through new interviews with some of the coaches – Rick Barnes, Tom Izzo, Kelvin Sampson, and Gary Williams – viewers get to see how their lives have been affected by the trip.  We hope you enjoy this series.  Let’s get it kicked off with Episode 1…

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Big East Salutes Our Troops

Coaches and an American President Offer Thanks to our Men and Women in the Armed Forces
By Brian Price, Reporter for SNY

The assignment was simple enough: Take a few minutes at the Big East Tournament to gather some words of appreciation from a few coaches for our American troops.  But everyone wanted in on the action, including President Clinton, who was watching in the stands.

Brian Price: What do you think of our troops and their service in Haiti?
Bill Clinton: The fact that troops made contributions to the Haitian recovery effort (http://clintonbushhaitifund.org) was profoundly moving. They’ve given enough to our country already. I’m grateful for their service and I’m grateful that they care about other people. And those that were not deployed to Haiti should know that, once more, the American military did America proud. They were unbelievable down there. Many Haitians in the street had been taught that America occupied Haiti from 1934 to 1950, and therefore felt negatively [towards America]. When the American troops left there were people running up and down the street begging them not to go. The people begged them to stay because [the Haitians] thought [our troops] performed better than anybody else.

BP: What are some of your most vivid memories of your service?
Lou Carneseca: In 1945, I was serving as a 2nd class pharmacist for General H.P. Freeman in World War II. We were on an AP 143 troop transport ship carrying the 82nd airborne. We pull into port at Yokohama and the first thing I see are four guys playing 2 v. 2 on a homemade backboard. Me and a buddy jumped off the boat and yelled out: “We got next!” I haven’t thought about that in over 60 years but there are certain things you never forget. To all the troops: we love you very much and we all know what you’re doing. Keep it going and God bless you all.

University of Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey, dressed in desert camouflage uniform and boots, cheers his team during the championship game of the USO-sponsored Hardwood IV "Hoops With the Troops" basketball tournament at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, May 27, 2007. Brey's LSA YAH team lost to Wake Forest University's Skip Prosser's Camp Arifjan Defenders, 79-74. (USO photo by Mike Theiler)

Mike Brey, Notre Dame: I was with “Operation Hardwood,” two years ago for the USO. It was unbelievable. I still have my wristband on [showing a green O.H.  rubber bracelet]. They put this on me when I left Camp Arifjan in Kuwait and I keep it on to support the troops. Being with the troops was the most powerful personal experience I’ve ever had. I’ve stayed in touch with guys that played for me over there [when I coached them during Operation Hardwood] and I just recently spoke with our ROTC group on campus.

Being at Camp Arifjan was the greatest example of teamwork I’ve ever been around. I was there two years ago for a week and I look forward to going back and spending more time with our troops.

I told them when I was there: “I so appreciate you having our back. When you return to the United States I have yours.” They’re all winners and exemplify teamwork to the fullest. It was motivating for me, as a leader, to be around that. Many of the sayings I heard, while over there, I brought back to Notre Dame and used with my team.

BP: Such as?
MB: “Always forward,” which is the theme at Camp Arifjan. Also, “Adjust and overcome.” That’s a great military saying and I think it’s a great saying when you’re working with a basketball team. Both those sayings are up on our [locker room] wall.

BP: What can we make people in the sports world aware of when considering the armed services?
John Thompson III, Georgetown: We truly appreciate everyone that serves our country. It drives me crazy when people in athletics use war analogies: “We’re going to war in tomorrow’s game.” No. We’re playing a game and having fun. Our troops are over there. It’s always an analogy I stay away from. We were proud to put the American flag on our jerseys out of respect and love for our troops and our country.

Keno Davis, Providence College: Too often we talk about games being “battles” and “the war.” We’ve all become more sensitive in understanding that our true patriots are out there fighting for it and dying for it. What goes through my mind when we stand during the National Anthem is: there are people doing things so much more important. Yes, we’re playing a basketball game and we’re trying our best to win but at the end of the day there’s more important things out there. I appreciate everything our troops do to allow us to live in the best country in the world.

When you’re in airports and you see people applauding our troops, that means a lot to them. It’s a little thing for us, but I think we all have to do our part to show our appreciation.

BP: Any messages for our troops?
Mick Cronin, Cincinnati: I saw a few soldiers from Cincinnati over Christmas break so I want to say hi to those guys. I know they’re over there following and watching the Bearcats. I hope March Madness can help keep everybody overseas stay positive. You guys hang in there. We’re proud of you and we wish you were back here watching March Madness filling out your brackets, but I’m sure you’re doing it over there. Thank you for everything.

Bobby Gonzalez, Seton Hall University: They allow us to do what we’re doing because of the sacrifices they’re making by being away from their families. We’re free to live our lives and play college basketball because of the young men and women who are over there. It’s incredible. It’s the ultimate sacrifice and we’re all so thankful.

Buzz Williams, Marquette: I don’t know that there’s any group of people that citizens of this country should be more thankful for than our American troops. What they do allows us to play games. Games don’t really matter. What they’re doing is life and death. They’re leaving their loved ones in order to protect me and my loved ones. Words can’t describe how thankful we are and how much we appreciate them.

Stan Heath, USF: Well I’m so thankful and I know my team and university are as well. We’re all so thankful for the troops and the sacrifices they make to be overseas fighting to give us our freedom. Sometimes we think that things we are doing are so important and we realize what they’re doing is so much more important. We always want to give thanks and appreciation for our troops who are serving this country and keeping our families safe and secure. The thing we want most is for all of them to come back home safely.

Compiling this piece was an honor. As the week continues, I look forward to adding more messages from courtside. I also want to note that each individual who contributed took time to close their eyes and find their words with thought and care. Lou Carneseca took the recorder out of my hand and spoke into it as if he was addressing our troops personally.

Hopefully, following college basketball this March will provide some much-deserved fun for our Armed Forces in combat zones and disaster areas throughout the world.

Brian Price is a writer for SNY, the online home for all things NY sports.  The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Brian Price and do not necessarily reflect those of the USO.

Barry Rohrsson Talks Basketball and the USO

Barry Rohrssen on USO Tour

Barry Rohrssen traveled to the Persian Gulf Region for nine days in June 2009 as part of Operation Hoop Talk.

SNY.tv reporter Brian Price recently interviewed Manhattan College Jaspers basketball Coach Barry Rohrsson.  Rohrsson has has twice toured for the USO with Operations Hardwood and Hoop Talk, celebrity entertainment tours that brings top NCAA Coaches to Troops stationed in Southwest Asia.

The coach shared this with Price: “There are so many outstanding people in our army that are dedicated and committed. I really tried to encourage that kind of dedication to the team.”  Click here to read the full interview!