Nice comeback, Kansas. Pretty sweet welcome back, too.
In a Rose Garden ceremony and an Oval Office tour, President Bush honored the Kansas Jayhawks as the 2008 NCAA basketball champions Tuesday. With a remarkable flourish in the final game, KU pulled out the title for the first time since 1988, when the team was last lauded at the White House.
"You brought new glory to one of our nation's most storied basketball programs, and you gave your fans all across America one more reason to chant: Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk," Bush said, using the school's famous chant to the delight of a loyal Kansas crowd.
In a year when all four No. 1 seeds advanced to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament in April, Kansas overcame a more highly touted North Carolina team to make it to the title game. Then, against Memphis, Kansas came back from nine points down with just 2:12 left.
Kansas guard Mario Chalmers hit a 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds left to send the game into overtime, where the Jayhawks dominated the Tigers. The team's coach, Bill Self, called it probably the biggest shot in Kansas history. And Bush certainly seemed impressed, referring to Chalmers as
"I know you got to be excited about winning an incredibly tough tournament," the president said.
"And your fans are excited, and I'm excited to welcome you to the Rose Garden. It's a big deal, as far as I'm concerned, to welcome KU to the Rose Garden."
Bush, a sports fan, clearly enjoys all the championship ceremonies at the White House. As he usually does at these events, he commended Kansas for showing teamwork and character. And he thanked the team for visiting wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center during its time in Washington.
The President accepted a cap, jersey and basketball from the players and coaches. He gave the ball a firm bounce and it bounded all the way up to his head — a nice personal rebound from the time last year when he tried the same thing and the ball landed with a thud.
Bush then led the team on a tour of the Oval Office. Self, the coach, later said that hearing from the president in that setting was inspiring.
"We were able to see a side of a man that very few people will be able to see," Self said.
After its White House tour, the team was off to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it got a chance to shoot baskets with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas at a little-known basketball court in the building.
"They showed us the highest court in the land," joked KU chancellor Robert Hemenway.
"I think our guys probably scored a few more points."
The team later received a rousing welcome at a Capitol Hill reception with the Kansas congressional delegation and dozens of cheering staffers and KU fans who live in the Washington, D.C., area.
"What a great team effort, what a great story for Kansas," said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.
Rep. Nancy Boyda, D-Kan., joked that after the KU victory, people in Washington no longer start conversations with
"those crazy (Wizard of) Oz jokes. They say, 'You're the woman from Kansas and the Jayhawks' and they talk about the wonderful victory. So I'm personally grateful."