2:16 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody! (Applause.) Please have a seat. Welcome to the White House. And let's give it up for Coach Pitino and the National Champion, the Louisville Cardinals. (Applause.)
Now, I have to start by recognizing a proud graduate of the University of Louisville, Senator Mitch McConnell, who is here. (Applause.) We've got a number other members of Congress who are here. We've also got Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer in the house. (Applause.) We've got Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway in the house. (Applause.) And I gather we have a whole bunch of fans everywhere. (Laughter and applause.)
Today we're here to celebrate a Louisville team that always played hard, that always worked together, that stayed focused on one singular goal, and that is to bust my bracket. (Laughter.) I've been having a tough time lately on my brackets. (Laughter.) This year I was close -- I had the Cardinals in the title game. But I guess I discounted the motivational power of making your 60-year-old coach promise to get a tattoo if you won. (Laughter.)
Now, we're not going to ask Coach to show it here at the White House -- (laughter) -- but I have to hand it to you, Coach, you did not chicken out. You kept your word. And in return, you’ve got something that will stay with you forever -- a shirtless picture of you on the Internet. (Laughter.) That will never be erased. (Laughter.)
But even if the rest of us don't have a tattoo on our shoulder to serve as a reminder, I think we all agree this is a team we will not forget. It had a swarming defense and, as a consequence, the Cardinals were able to capture their school’s third national title, but their first since 1986. They ran off 16 straight wins to end the season. They captured the Big East Tournament title. They sailed through the first four games of the NCAAs.
In the Final Four, they needed a pair of three pointers from walk-on Tim Henderson to mount a late comeback. Go ahead and give Tim a big round of applause. (Applause.) Mounting a late comeback against Wichita State to make the title game. And then against Michigan, they treated us to one of the best championship games that any of us have seen in a very, very long time. Luke Hancock led the way. (Applause.) Luke! At one point scoring 14 points in a row, including four straight 3s, before helping to ice the game with a pair of free throws in the final minutes. And that made Luke one of the first -- I believe the first player ever to come off the bench and win the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player. So it’s a great testament to him.
This win also made Coach Pitino the first coach in history to win a championship at two different schools. (Applause.) And we won’t name the other one -- right? (Laughter.)
Coach Pitino’s second title came in the same week that he not only found out that his son been hired as coach at Minnesota, but he had been named to the Basketball Hall of Fame. So he had a pretty good year. And the horse was all right. (Laughter.) I think I actually lost some money on that horse, so. (Laughter.)
But Coach understands he didn’t do any of this alone. As he said, “Players put coaches in the Hall of Fame.” And this team had some players. Gorgui Dieng, who is -- by the way, I went to Senegal, and everybody was very excited about Mr. Dieng. (Applause.) Played outstanding. (Applause.) Peyton Siva -- both Gorgui and Peyton were taken in last month’s NBA draft. And so we wish them all the best of luck in their next endeavors.
Luke earned a spot on Team USA in the World University Games, serving as flag bearer in the opening ceremonies. Russ Smith was a third-team All-American last season. And even though he couldn’t be here today, we are all excited to see what Russdiculous has in store for his senior year. (Laughter.)
And then, of course, there’s Kevin Ware. I told him to say hi to his mom because moms don't like seeing their kids get hurt. And obviously all of us remember the terrible injury that Kevin suffered. But what we also remember is the love that all of his teammates showed for him, the way that he was on crutches a day later. A week after that, he was up there cutting the nets in Atlanta. Today, he’s standing here with his teammates, working out, hoping to be ready for fall practice.
And that’s the kind of resilience and strong spirit that this team has had. They didn't just show it on the court; they showed it in the classroom and in the community. As a team, the Cardinals earned just under a 3.3 GPA, which is outstanding. (Applause.) Three players organized a beard-shaving event that raised more than $7,500 for the American Cancer Society. Peyton spent his Christmas morning delivering toys to kids in a children’s hospital. And just before this event, the team met with some of our nation’s wounded warriors who are here in the audience with us now. And we could not be more proud of them and more grateful to them.
So I want to thank everybody with the Cardinals organization for their outstanding performances, their leadership, and their contributions not just to Louisville, not just to Kentucky, but to the entire country.
Coach, we want to congratulate you again for your amazing leadership. You’re a great teacher. Congratulations again on the National Title. And from what I’ve seen in the preseason polls, we might see you back here at some point. (Laughter.) So, congratulations, Coach Pitino. (Applause.)
COACH PITINO: Well, the first gift that we’d like to give our President is -- it’s a Louisville Slugger, which is located in Louisville. It says, “Nationals Champions,” your name on it. And the reason we picked the bat is some press conferences are difficult, as it is for me. (Laughter.) Feel free to use this at any time.
THE PRESIDENT: There you go. You hear that, people? (Laughter and applause.) He’s talking to you. I like that. Absolutely.
COACH PITINO: And obviously, the standard jersey.
THE PRESIDENT: There you go. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
COACH PITINO: I guess the greatest thing for us -- the first time you were running, I would always try to get my guys to participate in politics and they really had very little interest. They were worried about social activities at school. And I said, you guys, when you get the right to vote you should vote, even if it's local contests. They said, well, we don't really know a whole lot about politics. I said, you need to study it, whether you're a political science major or not.
When you ran, I said to my team, okay, how many guys are going to vote -- trying to get them to -- encourage them again. And every person, including managers and coaches, all gave me the time that they would have to miss practice to vote. (Applause.)
This team, I think is the perfect example of what a team is all about. They suffer together. They cry together. Everything that you've heard in Jimmy V's speech is represented with this basketball team. They do their best on the court. They do their best off the court. They love each other.
They were so excited to see you today -- so were the coaches. (Laughter.) And we just really, really are proud of what Louisville represents. We're a blue-collar school. Twenty percent of our students have to have a second job to pay for school. We have 26 Fulbright scholars, more than MIT and Dartmouth and a lot of elite universities -- not Harvard -- (laughter) -- but most places like that. So we're real, real proud, because they're overachievers. They go beyond it and have to work real hard. It's everything that our President is trying to build with our country.
So this is a tremendous capping-off of an unbelievable season. We have Kevin Ware now walking. He'll soon be running. We have two of our players moving on. We have great academic prowess in the classroom. And we got a chance today to cap off a great season with a visit to the White House and meet a President on our team that's very much well loved. So we're very excited.
One thing is missing for my players. If Michelle was here, they would be -- (laughter and applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. (Applause.)
END 2:26 P.M. EDT