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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release October 14, 1999
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

                             The East Room

6:08 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Well, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the White House. I want to say a special word of welcome to Purdue Coach Carolyn Peck and UConn Coach Jim Calhoun and their wonderful teams. And we're honored to be joined by two members of Congress from Connecticut, John Larson and Nancy Johnson. Thank you. (Applause.)

Usually, you know, the members of Congress, they stand in front of the team and I shake hands with them, and then I go shake hands with the team. And I started shaking hands with the UConn team, and Nancy Johnson was the fourth person in the line and I wondered what position she could possibly have played. (Laughter.)

Well, we're delighted that they're both here, and the two Connecticut Senators, Joe Lieberman and Chris Dodd were also here; they had to go vote and they're going to try to get back before we finish. But we thank them for coming.

It's a great honor for me today to welcome the Purdue Lady Boilermakers and the UConn Huskies, two talented basketball teams who remain focused enough to win the most coveted prize in college basketball. It's a kind of a joke around the White House that I am a fanatic basketball fan, that I frequently misbehave during the NCAA tournament -- (laughter) -- especially if the Arkansas Razorbacks aren't playing well that year.

But I study these teams very closely. I'd like to -- I think that I would like to begin by making two acknowledgements that are important to the human element of basketball. First of all, the Lady Boilermakers lost one of their teammates, Tiffany Young, last August in a car accident, and her parents are here. And I'd like to acknowledge their presence and thank them for coming.

Would you -- well, they're here somewhere. There they are. Thank you. (Applause.)

And in this week, I can't help noting that on Monday we lost one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Wilt Chamberlain, whose dedication, determination and performance inspired countless Americans, most of whom never scored 100 points in a single game.

Wilt Chamberlain once said, in his rather wry and funny way, "They say nobody is perfect. Then, they tell you practice makes perfect. I wish they'd make up their mind." (Laughter.) One thing is clear. With practice and talent, UConn and Purdue got pretty close to perfect. (Applause.) They both beat two very talented Duke Blue Devil teams.

This was a season of firsts. First time a men's team from New England had won the NCAA tournament since Harry Truman lived in the White House; the first time the Purdue women or the UConn men ever won a national championship.

Let me begin by saluting the Lady Boilermakers. All America was awed by your performance. I understand it was fueled by power naps and peanut butter. (Laughter.) If that's true, I think I'll stay with them both. (Laughter.)

They had a dazzling 34-1 season record. I told the coach when we were starting this that I happened to see one night, on television, their early-season victory against Tennessee. And -- because, you know, Tennessee's coming here has become a kind of regular event -- (laughter) -- Coach Summitt and her husband and her wonderful son have become friends of ours, and Al Gore was in a slump the next day. (Laughter.) And he said, well, they must have had an off night. And I said, Al, I watched the game. They didn't have an off night. (Laughter.) That Purdue team is great. It's going to be hard for anybody to beat them. And it turned out to be right.

I want to mention the extraordinary contributions of the co-captains of the team. MVP Ukari Figgs turned around the final game with 18 points. All-American Stephanie White-McCarty amassed the second-highest number of points in the history of Purdue.

Basketball is a team effort. It depends upon everyone working together, and relies heavily on good leadership. The Boilermakers had a lot of both. As the first African-American woman ever to win the NCAA championship, as a coach, Carolyn Peck has demonstrated extraordinary leadership, carrying Purdue to two Big 10 tournament championships in only two seasons. And I'm glad she's back here with her team today. She's just finished her first season as a pro coach, where she missed the playoffs, I think she said, by one game. And next year is your second season and you've got to deliver. And we wish you well. (Laughter and applause.) So I'd like to call on Carolyn Peck and give her the microphone now. Thank you. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: I also want to acknowledge, before I leave the State of Indiana, the presence here of a man who has been my friend for 20 years, the former Senator from Indiana and the father of the current Senator from Indiana, Mr. Birch Bayh. Thank you, Senator. Thank you. I'm glad to see you. Thank you. (Applause.)

Now, the Huskies. I watched them all year, too. They won 34 games, and they were supposed to be a big underdog in the championship. They had a team that was determined not to be defeated. Richard Hamilton's outside touch and the tough defensive play of Ricky Moore and Khalid El-Amin gave them a 77-74 down-to-the-wire thriller that will never be forgotten by people who love basketball.

I also want to say that I'm glad Richard is coming to Washington to help the Wizards. We need it. (Laughter and applause.) Jim Calhoun's achievements as the Huskies' coach are tremendous. He's the only coach in NCAA history to win 250 games at two different Division I programs. He's the winningest coach in UConn history, with the third most wins in all of college basketball in the last six seasons.

When I called Jim to congratulate him on the victory, we had a wonderful talk about a lot of things, and I'll always remember our conversation. But I told him that I thought that the Duke coach, Mike Krzyzewski, gave him and these fine young men, the ultimate compliment -- you can only imagine how disappointed he was. He has all those great players, they were supposed to win everything easily. It was a fabulous game. The truth is, UConn was better than they thought they were.

And it was -- at a moment of enormous disappointment, he got before the national television cameras and he said, we did not lose this game. We were defeated by a better team. And that says a lot about this coach, and these players. (Applause.)

So, Coach, the microphone is yours.

(A jersey and ring were presented to the President.)

THE PRESIDENT: Look at this. (Applause.) I think it's a little big for me, don't you? (Laughter and applause.) Thank you. I really love this, thank you. (Applause.)

Now, when does practice start? (Laughter.)

COACH CALHOUN: I'll see you Saturday morning at 11:00 a.m.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much.

COACH PECK: Can we make a presentation?

THE PRESIDENT: Sure. Give them another hand, guys. (Applause.)

(A jersey is presented to the President.) (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: I can wear this. It's the right size, right? It's the right size. I love it. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: You know, in a year and a half when I'm not President anymore, people will, all of a sudden, start treating me as an elder statesman or something and they will all want my advice on various things. One of the things people ask me all the time is, isn't it hard to keep your feet on the ground and the sense of basic humility when, you know, the Secret Service are with you, you fly around on Air Force One, every need is just at your fingertips? And I think I will have two pieces of advice: One is, have regular press conferences; that'll cut you down to size. (Laughter.) And the other is, always meet with the champions of the men and women's NCAA basketball tournament. They will make you feel very small. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 6:17 P.M. EDT