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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release November 9, 1998
                       REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                            The East Room     

6:10 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Please be seated. I want to welcome, in addition to the coaches and the university officials and the teams, Senator Ford from Kentucky, Senator Frist from Tennessee, Congressman Whitfield, Governor Patton, President Johnson, Coach Summit, the team captains -- Chamique Holdsclaw, and Kellie Jolly, Associate Athletic Director Larry Ivey, Coach Smith, your team captains, Allen Edwards, Camera Mills, and Jeff Sheppard.

Before I begin, I have to turn the microphone over to someone who couldn't be here today, but who never misses an opportunity to remind me at this occasion that there is a team from Tennessee here always. (Laughter and applause.) Laura just said, the Vice President is supposed to call in, but he's a little late. I like it. I'll get to talk some more. Not yet? Give me the high sign, Laura.

So we'll go on with the program. (Laughter.) I love November, not only because of Thanksgiving, but because we get to start the college basketball season. It's the time of year also lately where I welcome the Lady Vols and the Kentucky Wildcats here. (Laughter and applause.)

For Kentucky, it has been two out of the last three years. For the Vols, this reminds me -- when I was governor, there was this wonderful civics teacher in a little town in Arkansas. And every year, she was such a devoted teacher, she would always bring her class to the Governor's Office. And every year, Pat Summitt brings her class to the White House. (Laughter.) Just part of a civics lesson that is unmatched in NCAA Women's Basketball history. (Applause.) Thank you.

I want to congratulate Pat Summitt and Tubby Smith for knowing how to turn talent into victory. They are two different things as we all know.

Let me begin by saluting the Lady Vols basketball team. There are few things in sports more thrilling than the way they roared off the bench in the first half of the championship in Indianapolis, scoring 55 points, tying an NCAA record -- Tennessee's 61st NCAA win, the most by any school ever, at the end of a 39-0 season.

Not only that, they won each of these games by an average of 30 points. That's something that would not only make any coach jealous, it makes any politician drool. (Laughter.) The Lady Vols have been called flawless, mega talents, without peer, merciless. Some say they are the best team ever to step on the floor, anytime, anywhere.

It was, of course, a victory for the team. But I think we should note that Chamique Holdsclaw led the Vols in scoring, was the Final Four MVP, swept Player of the Year honors -- coincidentally, wearing Number 23. And like Michael Jordan, she dominated every game of the season, averaging over 23.5 points a game; in the final victory, an impressive 25 points and 10 rebounds. I say that because young people in this country, especially young girls who are learning about women's basketball, will hear a lot more about her.

And let me also salute Coach Pat Summitt-- Coach of the Year for the sixth time in 12 years; her third consecutive championship team. Only John Wooden has more collegiate basketball championships, and she's gaining on him every day. Thank you again for what you have done.

And now, is the Vice President on the phone?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, I'm here, Mr. President. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Okay, gloating time. (Laughter.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you for letting me join this event by way of the telephone, Mr. President, and Tipper and I are sorry that we can't be there in person to congratulate the Lady Vols and the Wildcats on their magnificent seasons.

We had to be in Tennessee today. I'm calling in to the White House from Carthage, Tennessee, and we are with you in spirit, both here at home and not very far from the Kentucky border.

This is really an exciting occasion. And of course, both of you were right in that same location in 1996, and I'm sure it won't be long before you're back again.

In fairness, let me do this in alphabetical order. You know how close I am to Pat Summit, and the Lady Vols. But I want to start by congratulating Kentucky and saying, Coach, what a thrill it was to watch the Comeback Cats in the tournament -- three games in a row, three double-digit deficits, three gutsy wins. I'd like to commend every single one of the players for refusing to let this be a transition season, for refusing to give up, and for playing some great Tubby ball.

And, Coach Tubby Smith, I want to congratulate you on quite a remarkable first season, and for showing that you can teach some old Cats new tricks. You've already proven yourself a wonderful coach, a wonderful role model, a wonderful person, and a wonderful ambassador for Kentucky sports. The only question is, what are you going to do for an encore?

Now to the Lady Vols, of course, words can't express the pride that all Tennesseans feel in you and that all fans of excellence in sports feel for the Lady Vols. You didn't just win games, you dominated them, with an average margin of victory of over 30 points. And I thank you for sending a message to America that we play some pretty good basketball in Tennessee.

And even more importantly, your success has helped to popularize women's basketball, and you've given thousands of young women who want to play not just role models, but true heroines. And of course, Coach Pat Summitt is already a legend without peer. Six national championships in the last 12 years; a perfect 39 and zero record this past year, the best ever record by any NCAA basketball team, men or women. The first female coach to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated, possibly the best coach of all time -- woman or man -- in my opinion, and more Coach of the Year Awards than she has shelves to put them on.

So before I sign off, I just want to say one other thing. With the tradition of winning that both teams there at the White House today have, some people expected you to win. But that in no way belittles or diminishes your accomplishments in any way, shape or form. It enhances them -- because high expectations bring high pressure. And like all true champions, you performed even better when the pressure was on.

So, Pat, good luck in your 25th season. And, Tubby, good luck in your next. To the returning players, good luck next time. And to the seniors, what a way to finish your careers. Thank you very much, and thank you for letting me join in the celebration. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. I can't help noting that there's a little modest football game this weekend between Tennessee and Arkansas. (Laughter.) And both teams are undefeated, but Tennessee is much higher ranked. And both Vice President and Senator Frist refused to give me any points when we bet on this game. So I'm either going to have more barbecue than I can eat, or I'm going to have to take out a loan to finish Chelsea's college education after this. (Laughter.) But I'm looking forward to it.

I'd like to say a few words about the Kentucky Wildcats. First of all, I think all of us who watched the tournament this year thought it was one of the best tournaments that any of us could remember. And the fact that Kentucky did come back by 10 points at half-time in the last game to defeat Utah -- quite clearly a great, great team -- the fact that we had so much competition in the final teams that made it certainly to the Final Four, but even the last 16 -- it was an unbelievable tournament. And Kentucky became the first team ever to come back from such a large deficit in the final game of the tournament -- with heart, skill, and guts.

I want to congratulate the Final Four MVP, Jeff Sheppard, and all of his teammates. There were many solid scorers, no one who ran away. Kentucky had a team. They also did something that I think is very important for great teams. They got better and better and better as the season went on, winning their last 11 games by an average of 20 points.

Of course, Coach Tubby Smith faced the difficult task in his first year at Kentucky. People expected him to win all the time, and he had to start with that burden of expectation. I think the fact that he began his working life in tobacco fields with 16 brothers and sisters taught him something about teamwork. And he certainly brought what he knew about teamwork and family values and spirit to this work.

Jeff Sheppard said of Coach Smith that, "He does a really good job of teaching us the game of basketball, but an even better job of teaching us how to be men." I think that says more than anything I could possibly say about this remarkable man and his remarkable team.

Now I'd like to introduce Dr. Joe Johnson, the President of the University of Tennessee. (Applause.)

DR. JOHNSON: Mr. President, let me thank you for opening the White House to the 1998 National Basketball Champions. It is an honor to be here. We're neighbors, we just come up 75 with the Big Blue, and we joined together. And it's nice to have Kentuckians and Tennesseans in the White House being honored by you. And we appreciate that very much, and appreciate Vice President Gore being on the telephone.

My only obligation beyond to thank the President -- and that's an honor to do that -- is introduce Pat Summit. In light of what Vice President Gore and President Clinton have said about her, there's not much I can say, other than I want to make three comments about her. One, she is the best women's basketball coach, and in my view, the best basketball coach in America. Second, we've had her for a long time -- she started out driving a John Deere tractor -- on a farm, my the way, Tubby. And she's done all right. The other thing -- the last thing I want to say about Pat Summitt in introducing her -- ever, ever we are proud of her because she always represents her family, herself, and her university in an exemplary way in whatever she does, along with a 39 and 0 season.

It's a pleasure to present Pat Summit. (Applause.)

COACH SUMMIT: Thank you. Thank you, Dr. Johnson. I don't know how many of you are aware that this will be Dr. Johnson's last year as President of the University of Tennessee. And we have not confirmed this by any means, but we have indicated that we would like to send him out with a fourth consecutive championship. So I hope we can make that happen. (Applause.)

I would like to certainly congratulate the University of Kentucky. It's great to have an SCC family member here with us today. And to Tubby Smith -- and we do have a lot of similarities in our background -- I'm really proud for Coach Smith and for the Wildcats.

Certainly, it does not get old. I've been asked that a lot today, President Clinton -- it does not get old. And we love to be here, because it's a tremendous honor. It's an opportunity for us to be here with a lot of our university representatives, a lot of the Tennessee delegates -- Joan Cronin, Women's Athletics Director at Tennessee, who, she along with Joe Johnson, certainly have helped us to elevate our women's basketball program to the top.

Last year was a great year in many, many ways. It was my 24th season. I've never had so much fun. Isn't winning fun? (Laughter.) Let's face it, I think coaches are a lot happier, players are a lot happier, fans are a lot happier. But I would tell you that it was a family effort, it was a team effort. I have my son Tyler, and my husband, R.B. here today, and I had their support.

But I have a wonderful staff -- a support staff and then three assistants that are really, really special -- and that's Mickey DeMoss (phonetic) and Holly Worlick (phonetic) and Al Brown. Without them, we could not have done what we did. As you know, however, you do win with talented players when you start playing that game.

This group was exceptional. They were unique in a lot of ways, but the thing I'll always remember about them is their passion for the game -- and how hard they worked and how hard they played. And they certainly went down in history. And they're the reason that we're here today.

So, thank you, ladies, for bringing us back. And thank you, President Clinton, for having us and honoring us here today. And I think we have some gifts for you. And we will have Kellie Jolly and Chamique Holdsclaw, who have been terrific leaders for us, come up and make that presentation.

(Some gifts are presented.)

THE PRESIDENT: I now have a whole wardrobe from them. (Laughter.) It's great, I have all these matching workout clothes. Thank you very, very much.

Now I'd like to ask Larry Ivey, the University of Kentucky Associate Athletic Director, to come up.

MR. IVEY: Thank you, Mr. President. On behalf of the University of Kentucky President Charles Wetherington (phonetic), and our Athletic Director Sam Newton (phonetic), who both would have liked to have been with you today, but had previous engagements, I would like to tell you what an honor it is for the University of Kentucky Men's Basketball Team to be back here as 1998 NCAA Champions.

We were here in 1996 with the Lady Vols, and we'd like to congratulate them for their '97 win and in coming here without us. We forgive you for that. (Laughter.) But we're glad to be reunited this year. And as you said earlier, we'd like to make this an annual affair.

When we were here in '96, we had a different coach, and when Rick Pitino decided to move on for -- I don't know if you would say greener pastures of the Celtic green, or the money, or whatever -- (laughter) -- but it took us about 30 minutes to decide who we wanted to take his place. Coach Newton and I discussed it and talked with Dr. Wetherington and we only mentioned one name, and that was Tubby Smith. We only talked to one individual, we only interviewed one individual, and that's the man who brought us the 1998 NCAA Championship.

Would you please welcome Coach Tubby Smith. (Applause.)

COACH SMITH: Thank you. First I just want to say how excited we are to be a part of such a great celebration and to be a part of something that's so special. I know this is a great honor for me and for this basketball team. A few of these guys have been here before, so it's kind of old hat for them. But for most of us, it's quite an experience.

I want to thank the President and Vice President Gore for having us here today. I live not far from here, down in southern Maryland, so I feel like I'm back near home anyway. I also want to congratulate Coach Summitt and the Lady Vols on a great year -- three years in a row, that's quite an accomplishment.

Again, we'd like to be back here again -- hell, this year, next year, and hopefully we can meet again at this time and make this an annual event. (Laughter.) That would be fun to do.

But I also want to bring greetings from the commonwealth of Kentucky, the University of Kentucky, Dr. Wetherington, C.M.Newton, our Athletic Director who couldn't be with us tonight, people that gave me an opportunity to lead this great program to another National Championship. This is our seventh championship -- again, following in the footsteps of a great coach like Rick Pitino, a guy who I admire and have a lot of respect for. I'd worked for him at one time when we first went to Kentucky, so I was very familiar with the fanaticism of Kentucky basketball.

I, too -- you know what they say, behind every successful man, there's a surprised mother-in-law -- (laughter.) There's a good woman. But my wife Donna is here with me, and my father Guffrey (phonetic) -- and Parthenia Smith -- I want to certainly thank them for coming -- my sister Alberta. But I have 17 brothers and sisters, so it was tough to get them all in here. (Laughter.) I assume that's why they're not here -- no.

No, but it's been a real joy and a privilege to be here. I've got so many distinguished guests and delegates from Kentucky and from the University of Kentucky -- it's been a year that we couldn't really explain. They gave us the moniker of the Comeback Cats, and literally we did. We had to come back 14 times last year. So we had a lot of experience, President, in coming back this year. (Laughter.)

When you're down 10 to a team like Stanford, and by 17 to the great Duke team, you're looking around for answers. And certainly they came through -- our players came through in guys like Cameron Mills and Jeff Sheppard, Allen Edwards, Natsi Mohammed, (phonetic) guys that are not with us now, but have gone on to bigger and better things. But we have a great group of young men returning, and I'm very pleased to say that this group is exemplifying a lot of those same qualities that last year's team did -- hardworking, dedicated, and committed. They've made the sacrifices and they're working hard to prepare to get back here next year -- aren't we, fellas? Okay.

We have a gift for you also, President Clinton, and I wanted to bring up Jeff Sheppard and Cameron Mills. You guys come up here.

CAMERON MILLS: I remember back at the beginning of the season when Coach Smith first arrived, and we were walking down the hall of Memorial Coliseum, and he asked me -- and I don't know if he is going to remember this story, or not -- what goals do you have for this season. And I told him, I said, we're going to introduce you to the President of the United States. (Applause.)

Mr. President, on behalf of the University of Kentucky, the state of Kentucky, we also have a gift we would like to give you. And we gave you one of these back in 1996, and I never recall you wearing it. (Laughter.) But we're going to give you another one in good faith that you will wear this one. (Laughter and applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Look how big it is. Cameron, for all you know, I slept in it. Look at this. (Laughter.) Look, you all are laughing about this, but I'll have you know that I was 6'8" before I got elected President. (Laughter.)

Well, thank you very much. Let me say to both of you, I follow basketball quite closely and I have had occasion to get to know Pat Summitt and her husband, R.B., and fine son, Tyler, who is kind of getting bored coming to see me every year. (Laughter.) But it's nice for me because I've watched him grow up. (Laughter.) He weighed about 15 pounds the first time I -- and he came to see Buddy today, so my dog is early awaiting his reunion there.

I also have very much admired Tubby Smith from afar. And I like it when teams can come back. Although I must say, I prefer to get ahead and stay ahead. (Laughter.) But sometimes you just have to come back. (Laughter and applause.).

So I think we've had the best of both worlds here today and a lot of what is best about our country. Thank you, and God bless you all. Welcome. (Applause.)

END 6:34 P.M. EST