5:03 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you! (Applause.) Thank you very much. Everybody, have a seat. Have a seat. Welcome to the White House, and congratulations to the Kentucky Wildcats on your 8th national championship. (Applause.) Eighth national champ -- that’s not bad. (Laughter.) That’s not bad. Although, this is the first in 14 years.
Now, this was the fourth year that I filled out my bracket on ESPN. And what I’ve learned is that if I make the right picks, I look like a genius. But if things go the other way, then a team like Kentucky gets to come to my house and remind me, in person, that I was wrong. (Laughter.) So it is a double-edged sword.
Of course, I knew Kentucky was good. I had them in the championship game. But in the end, I thought, they got all these freshmen. These guys are too young. (Laughter.) And keep in mind, at this time last year, three of the Wildcats’ five starters were still in high school. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist couldn’t even vote yet. (Laughter.)
But let’s face it, sometimes talent trumps experience. And sometimes, a bunch of young players, even if they’re used to being big fishes in their ponds, even if they’ve never played together before, they can buy into a system, they understand the concept of team, and they do something special right away. And that’s exactly what happened in Kentucky.
Of course, a lot of credit for that goes to their outstanding coach, Coach Calipari. (Applause.) My understanding is, when he recruited these players, Coach started off by asking them some simple questions: Do you want to win a national title? The answer was yes, apparently. (Laughter.) Can you do it by yourself? The answer was no. He took a roster with six former All-Americans and got them to do something even more impressive, and that was share the ball. So you had six players average double figures in points this year; nobody averaged more than nine shots a game. If you didn’t play defense, you didn’t play.
And as a result, the Wildcats started winning. At one point, they won 24 straight. They spent the final eight weeks of the season ranked number one. They cruised through the tournament, trailed for less than 10 minutes total, before beating Kansas in front of 70,000 fans at the Super Dome. (Applause.) So that’s a pretty good run.
Most importantly, though, they did it as a team. And nobody, I think, was a better example of that than Anthony Davis, who -- everybody kept on remarking on it. Nobody has ever seen somebody who didn’t have a lot of field goals and yet still controlled the game. Still ended up being the most valuable player -- racked up sixteen rebounds, six blocks, three steals. That doesn’t count all the intimidation factor -- (laughter) -- that the other team had to go through. Of course, that’s what happens when you grow eight inches between your sophomore and senior years of high school. In fact, he has grown an inch since he got to the White House. (Laughter.) His pants are already like this. (Laughter.) Just got a new suit. (Laughter.)
When Anthony needed help, Doron Lamb stepped up, dropping 22 points in the biggest game of his career. (Applause.) First off the bench, Darius Miller, who became -- (applause) -- the first player in Kentucky history to be named Mr. Basketball, win a state championship in high school and win a national title with the Wildcats. (Applause.) I’m pretty sure Coach Cal is right that if Darius decides to run for governor he’ll do all right in Kentucky. (Laughter.) I also want to congratulate Darius and Eloy Vargas for getting their diplomas on Sunday. That’s worth a big round of applause. (Applause.)
And I want to congratulate them for doing their share of community service in the Lexington community -- from packing backpacks full of food for kids who don’t have enough, to raising money for tornado victims.
So these guys do it all. Everybody’s got to take a good look now, because a whole bunch of these guys are going on to the NBA. Who knows, one of them might end up here in Washington. We’ll take him. (Applause.)
Coach Cal is back on the recruiting trail, and if the next group of Wildcats is anything like this one, then I might see them again sometime soon.
So congratulations again to all the fans, to all the faculty, to all the -- everybody who helps to make Kentucky such an outstanding university. Most of all, congratulations to the team and to coach Calipari. (Applause.)
COACH CALIPARI: Thank you very much. Mr. President, on behalf of the Big Blue Nation, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, we are honored and humbled to be here. This team, when they won that championship on that court in New Orleans, they were jumping up and down not saying, “We did it! We won!” They were saying, “We’re going to the White House! We’re going to the White House!” (Laughter.) Because they wanted to meet you.
As a member of our team, I’d like our seniors, Darius Miller, to give you his #1 jersey that he wore for four years. Eloy Vargas has a ball that the team has signed, and the young
-- (laughter and applause.) There’s the #1 jersey.
THE PRESIDENT: That's a good-looking jersey right there. (Applause.)
COACH CALIPARI: And the young guy from your home city of Chicago --
THE PRESIDENT: Chicago! (Laughter.)
COACH CALIPARI: -- would like to present you with the 2012 National Championship ring, and it might say, it is the first. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Look at that. Well, this is some nice gear. (Laughter.) I have to say, by the way, after the game, I called the coach and the team, and I mentioned to Anthony that I had actually been to his school, a small charter school in Chicago, when I was still a senator. And I had spoken to the kids there, and he told me, yes, I was there. (Laughter.) But I didn't recognize him. He looked a little different apparently four years ago, so what a wonderful set of gifts. I appreciate that.
5:10 P.M. EDT