UConn men, women honored by President Obama at White House
AUDIENCE: Thank you. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: You’re pleased to be here, aren’t you? (Laughter.) I think we should give it up for the men’s and women’s national college basketball champions, the Connecticut Huskies! (Applause.) Now, I have to say that, as President, one of my goals has been to eliminate waste and cut out duplicative programs to make things a little more efficient, but this might be carrying things a little too far. (Laughter.)
We have, as you might expect, some big Huskies fans here today, including some outstanding members of Congress. I also want to recognize your university president, Susan Herbst -- (applause) -- your athletic director, Warde Manuel, and Larry McHugh, the chairman of your board of trustees. Give them a big round of applause. (Applause.) And of course, you’ve got a couple of great coaches in what I called when we were meeting back there the grizzled veteran, Geno Auriemma -- (laughter) -- and the new blood, Kevin Ollie, both in the house. (Applause.) I can make that joke now that I’ve got gray hair. (Laughter.)
Only once before, in 2004, has one school won both the men’s and women’s Division I titles. And of course, that was who?
THE PRESIDENT: It was UConn. This is the women’s 9th national title, more than any other women’s basketball team in history. (Applause.) For the men, it is their fourth title in the last 16 years, which is twice as many as anybody else during that same span of time. (Applause.) Which makes me think, what’s up with you guys? Why aren’t you sharing? It is just a remarkable thing what these two programs have accomplished.
Of course, this season the women went a perfect 40-0, won their games by an average of 34 points -- so there was not a lot of suspense during their season. (Laughter.) In a championship game billed as one of the biggest in women’s basketball history, the Huskies routed the previously unbeaten Notre Dame -- and gave me bragging rights -- it gave me bragging rights to pick them in my bracket. This was not hard. (Laughter.) I mean, me and 95 percent of the country. And this marked the 5th time that UConn has finished a season as undefeated national champion.
Of course, a lot of this success belongs to Coach Geno, who has cemented his place as not only a legend in women’s basketball, but one of the best coaches that we’ve ever seen at any level and any sport, period. (Applause.) So we are grateful to have you. Congratulations. (Applause.)
But I think Coach Auriemma would be the first to tell you that the credit goes to the players. And these were just some outstanding young ladies. You’ve got Breanna Stewart named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player two years in a row. You’ve got Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who overcame injury and illness during the season, and came up big -- as she is prone to do -- during the tournament. You’ve got Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley, who went on to become top-10 picks in the WNBA draft.
And Stefanie, I did not forget that you challenged me to a dance-off last year. It is going to happen. It is going to happen. (Laughter and applause.) Don’t think that I -- don’t think that you’re going to beat me on that. (Laughter.) I also appreciate that you told the world about it after the title game. I have daughters in junior high and high school, and for their sake, I will not be dancing too much while the cameras are around. (Laughter.)
Now, I also have to confess, I did not pick the men to win in my bracket. (Laughter.) Of course, neither did anybody else unless you went to UConn. (Laughter.) Look at these guys, they’re all raising their hand. (Laughter.) Come on now, tell the truth. We were not counting on Shabazz Napier leading the way as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, and hitting big shot after big shot and locking down the perimeter defensively. The Huskies also had huge contributions from guys like Ryan Boatright, DeAndre Daniels, and Neils Giffey, who’s not here because he’s playing overseas.
After the tournament wins over Villanova, Iowa State, Michigan State, Florida, and Kentucky, UConn became the first seven-seed ever to win the title. (Applause.) And afterwards, Coach Ollie said, “Somebody told me we were Cinderellas” and I said, “no, we’re UConn” -- that’s “what we do, bred to cut down nets.” That’s Coach Ollie. He’s always confident and calm and collected. In fact, a sportswriter once referred to him as “our future President.” (Laughter.) I don’t know with a name like “Kevin” whether that’s possible. (Laughter and applause.) But who knows, anything could happen.
Now, Coach Ollie is doing one other important thing -- he’s making sure his team hits the books as hard as they hit the boards. And this season, both the men and the women ranked among the nation’s best academically and that’s worth applauding. (Applause.)
Both teams have also done tremendous work in the community. They’ve raised awareness for cancer and autism. They’ve volunteered at senior centers, spent time with underprivileged youth. Coach Ollie and Coach Auriemma spoke at the Pentagon last month as part of our Hoops for Troops program. And last year, after the tragedy in Newtown, the men put on a clinic for kids at a local rec center -- and they asked the media to keep it under wraps so the kids could just have a good time.
Finally, I want to take a moment to single out the women here, because I could not be more proud of the example that they present for my daughters. They’re showing that just like the boys, girls can be tough, athletic, beautiful, successful, competitive and make fun of me, which is what my daughters do all the time. (Laughter.) So thank you guys for the outstanding example. (Applause.)
Congratulations to your championship Huskies. (Applause.) And this really isn’t goodbye probably, because I suspect I’ll see some of these folks again before I leave office. So let’s strike the podium. We’ll take some good pictures. Come on. And I know we’ve got some jersey presentations here. Where’s my jersey? (Laughter.)
A few quotes from UConn players and coaches:
*** Napier on President Obama:
“He doesn’t present himself as somebody more powerful than you. He’s definitely well-respected. He doesn’t want to ‘wow’ you with how powerful he is. He’s just a well-respected guy, and someone that you respect because of the way he handles himself. I’m definitely honored and humbled, don’t get that wrong, because he is one of the most powerful men, if not the most powerful men in the world. Probably ten years down the line, it’s definitely something I’m gonna look back at.”
*** Ollie on Obama:
“He’s a person that always responds with courage. That’s the kind of things I tell the kids in practices -- being steady in games and responding to adversity. I think President Obama does those things. And his humility -- you see that each and every time he speaks. He’s always thanking others. That’s what we want our kid to understand each and every day they walk on our campus, or when we’re away visiting another team, what they represent. Hopefully, they do understand.”
*** Ollie will be honored at the Franciscan Sports Banquet on Tuesday night in Southington.
“Just being in that place, a feel like I’m a little holier. The grace of God is with me. Just to walk in there and feel the love of all the Franciscan nuns and everybody involved, it’s just a great night and I’m looking forward to it.”