Obama Congratulates the Tar Heels
By Michael D. Shear
When the president's number one assistant is a Duke man and a former basketball champion, you might think the Tar Heels wouldn't be welcome.
But when the president famously picks the North Carolina team to win the NCAA tournament, and they succeed, the invitations get put in the mail.
And so today, President Obama hosted the 2009 NCAA champion team from the University of North Carolina on the South Lawn of the White House, offering his congratulations but choosing not to shoot a few hoops on the presidential court.
"Welcome to the White House and congratulations," Obama said after emerging from the White House at 2:11 p.m. It took only two minutes to get to his real message:
"More importantly," he said, "thanks for salvaging my bracket and vindicating me in the eyes of everyone."
Obama's personal assistant, Reggie Love, is a former Duke player whose membership on the 2001 team makes him a former champion. Obama noted the rivalry, saying that everyone on his staff was excited about the team's arrival -- except maybe Love.
"He wants to scrimmage with you guys," Obama said. "We'll arrange that."
Obama offered serious praise for the team's academic achievement, noting that they had the highest number of graduates of any of the final four teams. He had specific kudos for Coach Roy Williams, who he said was committed to the development of his players as men as well as athletes.
But it was clear that Obama -- who fancies himself a pretty good basketball player -- was loving this particular perk of being president.
He joked with Tar Heels guard Jack Wooten, reminding him of the scrimmage Obama had with the team as a candidate last year. He noted that both he and the team had good luck after that -- "They're now national champions and I'm now president." -- but recalled that Wooten roughed him up.
"He stole the ball from me, blocked my shot," Obama said, adding that there were "no hard feelings."
Williams presented Obama with a white-and-powder-blue Tar Heels jersey -- "OBAMA 1" -- and several senior members of the team gave the president a large, framed picture of the scrimmage from last year.
Posted at 2:52 PM ET on May 11, 2009
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