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WASHINGTON (WDRB) -- President Obama on Tuesday honored the University of Louisville men's basketball team for winning the 2013 NCAA championship, saying the team, "stayed focused on a singular goal -- to bust my bracket." He made sure to mention, however, that he did have the Cards in the title game.
The president said he had the Cardinals in the finals, but said, "I guess I discounted the motivational power of making your 60-year-old coach promise to get a tattoo." Coach Pitino got the tattoo -- a red "L" for Louisville, along with the words "NCAA Champions 35-5" -- back in April. The president also noted that the win made Rick Pitino the first coach to win the championship at two different schools.
The Cardinal players also came in for their share of praise. Speaking of the championship game against Michigan, the president said, "Luke Hancock led the way, at one point -- " That's when the president was interrupted by shouts of "Luuuuuuuke!" The president continued, "At one point, scoring 14 points in a row, including four straight threes, before helping to ice the game with a pair of free-throws in the final minutes."
President Obama also mentioned Gorqui Dieng, telling the crowd, "I went to Senegal, and everybody was very excited about Mr. Dieng." He noted that Dieng and Peyton Siva were both taken in the recent NBA draft.
The president made a special mention of Kevin Ware, who broke his leg during the Elite Eight game against Duke on March 31. "I told him to say 'Hi' to his mom," the president said, "because moms don't like seeing their kids get hurt." He said Ware showed the kind of resilience it takes to be a champion.
President Obama also praised the team's academic achievements, mentioning that they'd earned just under a 3.3 GPA. And he mentioned a beard-shaving event that raised over $7,500 for the American Cancer Society and that Peyton Siva spent Christmas morning giving toys to children at a hospital. The team also met with wounded veterans before going to the White House.
Pitino presented the president with a Louisville Slugger bat commemorating the win, and suggested that it might come in handy for him during some news conferences. The president waved the bat toward the press and joked, "You hear that people? I'm talking to you."
Pitino also gave the president a U of L jersey with the number "1" and the name "Obama."
Then it was Pitino's turn to praise his players: "This team is the perfect example of what a team is all about. They suffer together, they cry together...they do their best on the court, they do their best off the court."
The coach continued: "We're a blue-collar school, 20 percent of our students have to have a second job to pay for school. We have 26 Fulbright Scholars, more than MIT and Dartmouth, more than a lot of elite universities....so we're real, real proud because they're overachievers....it's everything that our president's trying to build for our country."