Video: President Obama honors UConn, the 2016 national champions
The Connecticut Huskies visited the White House for the sixth time since 2009. President Barack Obama welcomed the team to the executive mansion to celebrate the team’s record fourth-straight NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship. The president then honored the team’s accomplishments with about 15 minutes of remarks in the East Room.
Remarks by the President Honoring the 2016 NCAA Champion University of Connecticut Huskies
2:41 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hey! (Applause.) Everybody, have a seat. You guys have been through this before. You know what to do. (Laughter.) Sit down. So there’s an old saying: You can’t win all the time. (Laughter.) Except this team seems to consistently want to bust that cliché. Ladies and gentlemen, for the fourth year in a row, give it up for the NCAA Champion, UConn Huskies! (Applause.)
As you might be able to tell, there are some Huskies fans in the house. (Laughter.) Almost the entire congressional delegation from Connecticut. Mr. Larry McHugh, Chairman of the University Of Connecticut Board Of Trustees. David Benedict, the University of Connecticut’s Athletic Director.
When I called Coach Geno to congratulate him for winning the title — again — I told him we’d have his room ready for him when he gets here. It’s a small room, with a cot. He doesn’t get the Lincoln bedroom. But he does seem to spend an awful lot of time here. As it turns out, the Huskies are generous hosts, as well. I’ve got an open invitation to join their Xbox 360 Rock Band group, the Delta Commas. (Laughter.) In nine months I will have some time on my hands.
But congratulations, Coach, on your 11th national championship. (Applause.) What an extraordinary record. He has now broken the record set by the legendary John Wooden for the most championships by a head coach in Division I sports. And this season, the Huskies broke another NCAA record — they won the most consecutive national championships by one team. Coach Auriemma’s players will tell you he is one of the foremost experts on tough love. I’m pretty good at that, too. You can ask Malia and Sasha. (Laughter.) But to an entire generation of athletes and young women, he has been a lifelong teacher and friend. And all of us, even Huskies’ rivals, are going to be cheering him on when he takes Team USA to the Women’s Basketball Gold Medal in the Olympics this year. (Applause.) Bring on the Gold!
This team has gone undefeated twice in the past four years, including this past season. It is a testament not only to Geno, but to the captain of this team, and the NCAA Player of the Year — Breanna Stewart. (Applause.) When she was a freshman, Breanna said she came to UConn to win four championships. And I’m sure Coach was thinking, eh, don’t put so much pressure on yourself. (Laughter.) But if you got it, if you can back it up, then you’re not being cocky, you’re just being accurate. (Laughter.) And this team embraced her challenge.
Breanna and her fellow seniors — Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson — led the team by making sure everybody else knew what was expected of them. Entering the first game of the season, they were 0-0 like everybody else. They were playing on the road. Some of their best players had graduated, and expectations were high. But they quickly put any uncertainty to rest, blowing out Ohio State by 44 points. They’d win the rest of their games by an average of almost 40 points. Tough defense won the championship rematch against Notre Dame. Overall toughness won a hostile road game against the second-best team in the country, South Carolina, before a sellout crowd of 18,000 fired-up fans. And from then on, they just marched straight to their fourth title.
But thanks to Coach Auriemma, this team has never let victory go to their heads. They’re academic All-Stars. Over half the team has a GPA of a 3.0 or higher. (Applause.) On Sunday, the seniors walked across the stage and received their diploma. And they’re community leaders, as well. They run a basketball clinic at Halloween for local kids. A food drive leading up to Thanksgiving. A blood drive for the Red Cross. They collect toiletries from their hotel stays throughout the year to donate to families in need. They filmed a video for elementary school students on the importance of being kind to one another. So these young women know what it means to give back to a community that gives them so much.
I have a feeling this team will be back again. I will not be — I’ll be honest, Coach, I’ll miss the visits, our annual phone calls. But I just want to say how incredibly proud I am of all that they have achieved. These women have broken so many records. We don’t have time to run through all of them, but throughout they’ve done it with grace and good humor and good sportsmanship, and an outlook that serves as an example for young athletes — boys and girls — to look up to. Their triumphs are an example of the ways that sports can bring an incredible sense of competitive fire, but also teamwork and cooperation, discipline and hard work to a young person’s life. They’re going to continue to be great athletes. They’re going to continue to be great role models.
I told them earlier that one of the things this program has done is that each year it has set a high bar for excellence, and each year you see the women’s game getting better and better and better, and giving all the other teams around the country a mark to shoot for. And that is good not just for young women who can see an example of extraordinary athletic accomplishment that they can shoot for, but it’s good for the boys, too, because maybe the boys get a sense that they can’t mess with the girls because the girls know what it means to be great athletes and great competitors.
So we could not be prouder of them, couldn’t be prouder of the coach, couldn’t be prouder of the program. Congratulations national champions, the UConn Huskies. (Applause.)
COACH AURIEMMA: You know, the first time we came here in 2009, and then we came back and we all enjoyed it, and we came back — (laughter) — and I remember saying to President Obama, I said, you know, your fourth year is coming up. And I said, I don’t know what the future holds. I said, I know we’re going to be back. (Laughter and applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: That was true.
COACH AURIEMMA: And he said, so am I. (Laughter and applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: That was true, too.
COACH AURIEMMA: So, taking that, I was hoping that we could get the rest of the NCAA, after four years of Stewie and Ry and Mo, we could just have a vote and see if we could have them for another four years. (Laughter.) And, unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. We were fortunate to have Tuck and Moriah and Stewie for four years, and Briana joined us — Pulido. They’ve done something that is pretty incredible in the sense that every other player that goes to college for the rest of the time that they play basketball can never beat, can never top what they’ve done. Somebody can tie them, somebody can do exactly what they’ve done. But they go to bed at night, every night, knowing that no one in the history of basketball has ever done what they’ve done, and no one will ever be able to do more than they’ve done. And that’s something that we all are really proud of. (Applause.)
The trips down here are memorable because we know that the President is a tremendous basketball fan. He keeps on top of things. He picks us every year in the NCAA tournament. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: It’s really tough. Clairvoyant. (Laughter.)
COACH AURIEMMA: And you know — that’s the last thing I’ll say — you know, what I’m going to miss the most is — I don’t know if you’ve ever gotten a phone call from the President — (laughter) — but my phone rings, and I look at my phone and there is just, like, lines and it says “Unknown Call.” And I’m like, I’m not answering this. (Laughter.) I don’t know who it is. So I don’t answer. And then next day — unknown call. I put it away. The third day, it said, you better answer this. (Laughter.) And I picked it up, and he’s on the phone. And I’m going to miss the relationship. I’m going to miss coming down here. I’m going to miss his support that we have.
But if you’ve been paying attention to what’s going on in the media these last six or seven months, as time goes by, we’re probably going to miss him more than he misses us. Thank you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Very nice. (Applause.) Thank you. That was very kind. (Applause.) Thank you. I should point out — I don’t know if maybe this is a secret — but we couldn’t bring it out here. In addition to the traditional jersey and basketball, Coach brought me a rocking chair. (Laughter.) Now, I’m not taking this as an insult. I’m assuming it was meant with love. But, Coach, I do want you to know I’m not going out to pasture here. (Laughter.) In fact, I might even be able to come to one your games live. (Applause.) So don’t think you got rid of me that easily.
2:53 P.M. EDT