THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND THE VICE PRESIDENT TO THE MEN AND WOMEN'S NCAA BASKETBALL CHAMPIONS
The East Room
5:45 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: On behalf of the President, let me welcome all of you to the White House. Please be seated, those of you who have seats. This is one of those standing room only events, and it's easy to see why.
I want to acknowledge some of the distinguished guests here on behalf of the President before speaking to introduce and present the President. Senator Fred Thompson and Senator Bill Frist from my home state of Tennessee. Senator Wendell Ford from Kentucky. Congressman John Duncan, Congressman Harold Rogers, the President of the University of Kentucky Charles Wethington, and the President of the University of Tennessee Joe Johnson, and the coaches -- Coach Rick Pitino and his wife, Joanne, and members of their family; Coach Pat Summitt and her husband, R.B. -- and is Tyler -- we saw Tyler on the broadcast. He was watching every play there. And to all of the distinguished guests and visitors who are here.
I want to begin by welcoming the National Champion University of Kentucky Wildcats, and of course, the National Champion University of Tennessee Lady Vols to the White House. And let me say congratulations on your wonderful accomplishments. (Applause.)
Now, I'm particularly pleased and honored that the President is allowing me to go first and introduce him today, because I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Not too far back the President was, every single day, telling me about the Arkansas Razorbacks -- (laughter.) Razorbacks this; Razorbacks that. (Laughter.) I sat there listening and said hardly a word. They were a great team, they're always a great team. But now everyone knows in the world -- everyone in the world knows what I was thinking in my silence at the time: They play some pretty good basketball in Tennessee, too. (Applause.)
And everyone knows they also play some pretty darn good basketball in Kentucky. (Applause.) And, incidentally, the Kentucky Wildcats are not only this year's champions, they are the winningest team in the history of the NCAA Tournament, and the winningest team in all of college basketball. That is quite an accomplishment. (Applause.)
So we're very proud to have both of these teams here. And I was particularly proud to see the listing of the all-time winningest coaches with some of the most legendary names in history, and Pat Summitt right up there, right in the top rank. And we're mighty proud of your record, Pat. (Applause.)
Now, before I present the President, let me say one other thing. A lot of people expected the Kentucky Wildcats and the Tennessee Lady Vols to win. But that does not belittle their accomplishment or diminish it in any way; it only enhances it, because they did it in spite of those expectations. High expectation means high pressure. And true champions, like the teams that are being honored by the President here today, perform better than anyone else when the pressure is on.
Now it's my pleasure to present America's first fan, truly. Yes, he likes Arkansas. But even more than that, he has the deepest respect -- and we hear about this every day, too -- for those who work hard and achieve excellence. Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States, Bill Clinton. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you very much. You can sort of see that as far as this announcement today, I'm the Vice President. (Laughter.) And Mr. Gore is taking the lead, with his justifiable pride.
I want to welcome the members of Congress who are here, the Presidents of these two great universities, all the coaching staff, and their supporters. I see the Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky over here and many other people who are supporting these two teams.
It is true that I am a -- I suppose a fanatic would be too mild a word for it -- basketball fan. And I tried to watch every game that was on television, at least part of it, during this tournament. It was a fabulous tournament, in both the women's and the men's divisions. The people who won should have won. But, as the Vice President said, just because you're ahead and you're the favorite doesn't mean you always win. I hope everybody around here remembers that. (Laughter and applause.)
I want to congratulate the Lady Vols. They were terrific, especially down the stretch. Michelle Marciniak, their most valuable player, and all the team -- they really -- to win in the finals you have to play as a team. And I saw -- I got a note from my staff before I came out here that says that there is a sign outside their locker room back in Knoxville that says, "Offense fills seats. Defense wins games. And rebounding wins championships." That's kind of the way it works around here. (Laughter.) And I like that.
And I want to say, again, as I did to you on the phone, Pat Summitt, we thank you for your winning ways and we thank you for the values, the spirit, and the rules that you have followed all these years. You have got a formula for success as well as some exceedingly gifted young women. And we congratulate all of you. You've got a lot to be proud of. (Applause.)
Now, as you might imagine just from Washington, D.C.'s location and the number of people that work from the federal government, we've got a lot of people around here that went to the University of Massachusetts and Syracuse and all those places, you know. And I told everybody that the best basketball in America this year was in the SEC. We nearly had an all-SEC Women's
Final Four. The SEC did reasonably well in the men's division. And if we hadn't had to start all over again two or three times we might have had even more in the Final Eight there.
And at the end, I remember -- we have one of my staff members who thinks that there's a basketball waiting for him in heaven who lives in Massachusetts. And I said, they really are a team with two great guards on offense and defense, but unless Kentucky has a bad day no one will get close in this final tournament. And we all know that Kentucky never had a bad day.
And I think one reason is -- maybe the overwhelming reason is -- that even though they had fabulous players, many of which never got the individual recognition they deserve, they had a great team. And when you can consistently put 10 people out there that can shoot from anywhere and that can play defense as well as offense -- I read, Coach, I don't know if this is true, that no one averaged more than 27 minutes a game for the University of Kentucky. If that's true that's a stunning statement about the fact that basketball is still a team sport.
Interestingly enough, I thought about you after I saw the clips from the last Chicago Bulls-Magic game because the Chicago Bulls stars didn't get many points that day, but the team played like a dream. That's the way your guys played all year. And that's why you're sporting that 80 percent winning percentage at Kentucky. And that's why Kentucky won the championship that it deserved. And I hope America will remember a lot not only about the stunning play of Tony Delk, who deserved to be the outstanding player of the tournament, but also about the teamwork that you exhibited all year long. And we congratulate you. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Now I would like to ask Coach Summitt and Coach Pitino to come up here and say whatever they would like to say and bring whatever players they would like to play, because I know all of you really came to see them. But they are all very welcome at the White House. Thank you. (Applause.)
COACH SUMMITT: Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
COACH SUMMITT: Obviously, this is a great honor for the University of Tennessee. And I would like to personally thank our basketball team and the players that were very committed to playing as a team and doing things the right way. And it seems like we have been here today, and we have had a great day with our Tennessee delegation, but we were ready to play ball. So we were glad to see President Clinton and certainly, our claim to fame now in Tennessee, our Vice President Gore.
And I would say this, a couple years ago, the whole world knew that President Clinton liked those Razorbacks. Well, we're glad they're in the SEC. And I thought it was fitting that two years ago, when they brought home the National Championship, it just so happened that that occurred in Charlotte. So we wanted to make sure that Vice President Gore had an opportunity for us to bring him a championship, and I thought it was a little ironic that it also occurred in the city of Charlotte.
So when you think about, certainly, both of these individuals, you think they have brought a lot of good luck to the SEC, and I want to thank them for that.
To Coach Pitino and his team, it was great to watch a team demonstrate what you talk about to your basketball team and what your staff constantly enforces, and that's
playing both ends of the floor with great intensity. And certainly your team exemplified that, and we want to say that we're proud that, for the first time in NCAA history, we have a Men's and Women's Championship come from the same conference. So a real credit to the Southeastern Conference. And we're very proud.
Just a couple things more about our team. You know, I told them I was trying to constantly put into words how proud I was of how they represented our University and Dr. Joe Johnson and Joan Cronin, our Women's Athletic Director, and all of our Tennessee fans throughout the world. And last night I was saying, how can you put into words what that meant and the great deal of pride that I felt for their accomplishment, as well as my assistant coaches who were key in the whole process.
And I thought, you know, I really don't have to say anything, they'll know tomorrow when they get to the White House and about 5:30 p.m. when they're a part of this. And this is a great memory of a lifetime. and certainly, President Clinton, we thank you for today and what it will mean to us.
I understand you ran with the national team when they were here, our women's team. And our team had the day off, so they were glad they didn't have to run. (Laughter.) But they certainly were looking forward to this. And you certainly do not have a winner without having quality individuals in your program and having leadership. And the two young ladies that represented us in great fashion throughout the post season, throughout their career, I'd like to ask to come forward, and that's Michelle Marciniak, who you know was MVP of the Final Four; and Latina Davis, who was the MVP of the Regional Tournament. And they have some gifts. (Applause.)
MS. DAVIS: First of all, I'm Latina Davis, if a lot of you don't know. I'm sure you all do. I would like to thank everybody who spent a lot of hard work and time to put this occasion together. It's a special occasion for all of us to be here today and meet President Clinton and Vice President Gore. I would like to thank them for their following of our championship. And I would like to say to my team that I hope that you have another opportunity to come back to the White House again. (Applause.)
MS. MARCINIAK: It's indeed a great honor to be here today. Before I present to President Clinton and Vice President Gore the gifts that we brought for you, I would just like to personally thank President Clinton for the phone call that he made to us, to Pat and I after the championship game. It was -- you know, it's always a dream of mine to win a championship, but to actually get a phone call from the President of the United States of America is quite overwhelming. So I just wanted to thank you for that, President Clinton.
And to Vice President Gore, I think you brought us a lot of luck, so I appreciate that, and I just want to say I really like your tie.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Laughter and applause.)
MS. MARCINIAK: But we brought a basketball, a hat, and one of our championship jackets for Vice President Gore and President Clinton. And just want to thank you for your support and the awareness that you brought, President Clinton, to our basketball team this year.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. (Applause.)
COACH PITINO: I believe it's the first time in the history of college basketball where the women's and men's champions were from one conference, the SEC. As a matter of fact, if you notice the past few years, since President Clinton and Vice President Gore have been elected, the SEC is dominating the Final Four. (Laughter.) Please reelect them this November. (Laughter and applause.)
We would also like to congratulate the Lady Vols. You are a tremendous team. You are synonymous with greatness in college basketball. And very few coaches -- I was running the Tennessee campus, and very few coaches have a street named after them. And I ran around that street a couple of times for good luck. And it's a distinct honor; you deserve it. And the team is just tremendous. You did the state of Tennessee with great pride, and we congratulate you.
Our basketball team is also very special, special in so many ways. It's the most talent I've seen for one basketball team in quite some time. I think it's the best defensive team I've seen in quite some time. And when we won the championship, you always wait, very anxious to speak to the President because you see it on TV. And Tony -- I handed the phone to Tony -- he said, "Why are you in such a rush to get off the phone?" And I handed the phone to Tony and he said, "Was it because you were speaking with the President, or is it because he was a Rhodes scholar?" I said, "No, Tony, he knows too much darned basketball for me." (Laughter.)
And it was a great honor. And this is just a wonderful experience for the University of Kentucky and our basketball team to be here today. We started the season in August in the Vatican, and we had an opportunity to be in a private audience with the Pope. And for us personally, me personally, being a Catholic, that was the greatest experience of my life. The second greatest experience -- I'm leaving out my marriage and birth of my children, so I'm leaving that out -- (laughter).
The second greatest experience this year was our championship. And now it's capped off as the icing on the cake to have the opportunity to come to the White House and meet the two people that are leading our country -- and doing it remarkably well. So we are so honored to be here today -- and I am, representing our coaching staff, and so honored to coach the extraordinary athletes and represent, we think, the greatest state in the nation -- Kentucky. Thank you. (Applause.)
We'd like to bring up Mark Pope, who's going to present President Clinton, and, we think, Tennessee's maybe greatest high school basketball player -- I think he averaged something like 48 points a game -- from Brownsville, Tennessee -- Tony Delk -- to present Vice President Gore with something. (Applause.)
MR. POPE: Well, let me first say on behalf of the team that it is a great honor for us to be here, to be invited by the President and the Vice President, and also to come here and visit with the great statesmen here in Washington who are representing the state of Kentucky.
And we need to take care of a little bit of business before we go. We really believe that the Kentucky fans are the greatest in the world, and they're very avid, to say the least. And they knew that we were coming here to the White House. And they also know that President Clinton is a self-proclaimed big-time Arkansas Razorback fan. And thirdly, they really don't understand how anybody can be a fan for anyone besides Kentucky. (Laughter.) So as we have traveled around the state for the past month, it has been amazing how many people have come up and equipped me with Arkansas Razorback jokes to present here to the President -- (laughter) -- in hopes of swaying his allegiance.
But we have chosen to take a more tactful sway. (Laughter.) We would like to present the President and the Vice President with Kentucky jerseys. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: I must say I liked having Mark up here. I was sort of standing in the shade back there -- (laughter) -- away from all the bright lights. It was great. What do you think? Hold it up. (Applause.)
Again, let me say -- we're going to take formal little photos now with the two teams, and then we will have a receiving line in the next room, so we will break up, but before we break up, again let me thank these two great universities, these two great states, and the coaches and the teams.
I think that America likes March Madness and likes college basketball as much as anything else because it is both an individual and a team sport. And it has both rules and creativity; discipline and energy. And in that sense, it is sort of a symbol of what's best about our country when things are going well.
And I hope we can all remember that. We all need to live with rules and creativity, with discipline and energy, and we all need to remember that, however good any of us are, we're all on a team. And when we're on the team, the team's doing well, the rest of us, we do pretty well individually.
So thank you all for that, and God bless you. (Applause.)
END 6:12 P.M. EDT