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Remarks to the 1998 NCAA Men's and Women's Basketball Champions

November 09, 1998

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 Summitt; the team's captains, Chamique Holdsclaw and Kellie Jolly; Associate Athletic Director Larry Ivey; Coach Smith; your team captains, Allen Edwards, Cameron 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] 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] For Kentucky, it's been 2 out of the last 3 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]

[At this point, the Vice President made brief remarks by telephone from Carthage, TN.]

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 the 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 halftime 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 a 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.

[University of Tennessee president Joseph E. Johnson and Lady Volunteers coach Pat Summitt each made brief remarks. Players Kellie Jolly and Chamique Holdsclaw then presented the President with gifts.]

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.

[University of Kentucky associate athletic director Larry Ivey and Wildcats coach Tubby Smith each made brief remarks. Players Jeff Sheppard and Cameron Mills then presented the President with a Wildcats jersey, and Mr. Mills commented that the President never wore the jersey given to him after the Wildcats won their previous championship.]

The President. Look how big it is. Cameron, for all you know, I slept in it. Look at this. [Laughter] Look, you 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 eagerly 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] 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.

NOTE: The President spoke at 6:10 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Gov. Paul E. Patton of Kentucky; NBA Chicago Bulls player Michael Jordan; and UCLA head basketball coach emeritus John Wooden.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to the 1998 NCAA Men's and Women's Basketball Champions Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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