Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks to the Indiana University Hoosiers on Winning the National Collegiate Athletic Association Basketball Championship

April 03, 1987

The President. Well, please be seated. I didn't realize that there was sort of a hillside here in the Rose Garden—that somebody was standing up higher than— [laughter] . Well, Secretary Bowen and Members of the Congress and Hoosiers, and Hoosiers at heart, it's a pleasure to welcome you all here today to the White House to honor the 1987 NCAA men's basketball champs from Indiana University. We figured the Rose Garden would be an appropriate place to host you all today; the dimensions are about the size you're used to. But I apologize. We didn't have enough time to paint free-throw lines and put up baskets to make you feel really at home. [Laughter]

This has been a very special week for you all as players and for your coach, the shy and retiring Bobby Knight— [laughter] and for the people of Indiana. I grew up just one State west of the Wabash River, and I know a little something about Hoosier hysteria.

In Indiana, babies aren't born with silver spoons in their mouths; they come equipped with basketballs and high-top sneakers. [Laughter] I don't know how mothers there manage. Basketball is a way of life in Indiana that many people will never understand. But a movie out these days—you know, the one with the funny name, "Hoosiers"—along with your example will help to explain this phenomenon.

I have to say, also, I have a personal memory of that, because back in my day of athletics and playing and then later broadcasting, Indiana was sort of the capital of basketball. And many of your high schools played about 40 basketball games a season and no football, and some of those came to the college where I was enrolled. And when the football season was over and I, having played some basketball in high school, toyed with the idea of now going out for basketball—on the first day at the gym I took a look at those fellows and what they were doing with the basketball and I said, "No. I think I'll go in for swimming." [Laughter]

One measure of Indiana basketball is-much like politics and government—is statistics. Indiana was the cochampion this year in a tough Big Ten Conference, and they won 30 games, including a rather important 7-game run here at the end of the season. This is the fifth NCAA basketball title for Indiana, but the numbers don't match the thrill you provided to millions of basketball fans here in America.

You won tough victories from some extraordinary teams: LSU; the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; and of course, a one-point, come-from-behind victory against Syracuse right before the buzzer. This was no series for the faint of heart—players or spectators. It wasn't for one spectator sitting upstairs in front of the TV set.

Let me also say that there were no losers last Monday. I think you'll all agree that Syracuse gave you the game of your lives. To the players and fans from Syracuse, I offer my congratulations, too. You're all winners.

But let's talk about some individual winners with us today. Seniors Todd Meier and Daryl Thomas have played with heart, talent, and determination for Indiana for 4 years and came through when called for Monday night. Ricky Calloway, Dean Garrett, Steve Eyl, Joe Hillman, each provided us with clutch performances and moments of brilliance. So much for the front court. I also want to talk about a couple of guards. You know, the short guys on the squad.

Keith Smart, tournament most valuable player—Keith wanted to play basketball so badly that after an accident his senior year in high school he decided to grow 6 inches and play as a walk-on at Garden City Junior College in Kansas. And play he did. And last year Keith was a Junior College All-American. This year Keith iced a 16-foot jump shot with 4 seconds on the clock to give Indiana its national title. That's what I call progress. [Laughter]

And then there's Steve Alford, one of those basketball babies I referred to a moment ago—Indiana's Mr. Basketball as a high schooler, an Olympic gold medalist, two-time All-American, the leading scorer in Indiana history, and Indiana's team leader. And that's just on court. Off the court, Steve is a conscientious student and a model citizen, whose values are as important as his field goal percentage. He's my kind of basketball player, and he's America's kind of student athlete.

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't offer a few words of comment about coach Bobby Knight. Heck, everybody gets to take a shot at Bobby, why not the President of the United States. [Laughter] Actually, I'll leave Bobby's critics to their own devices. Critics aside, one thing is certain: Bobby cares deeply about his players on and off the court. He seeks to produce the best in his players through hard work, excellence in execution, and selfless team play. Now, when all is said and done, Bobby is my kind of coach. And, Bobby, if you've got time one of these days, I'd like a few pointers on fly fishing. [Laughter] But you know the stats as well as I do. Bobby Knight is the winningest coach in Big Ten history. He's won eight Big Ten titles. He's won American gold medals in the Pan American games and the 1984 Olympic games. And he's coached three Indiana teams to national titles, joining Adolph Rupp and John Wooden in the elite Three and Over fraternity.

Hard work makes for winners on the court, and dedication in the classroom makes for winners throughout life. These two elements are certainly at the core of this Indiana team. And I congratulate you all for living this example and, again, for winning the 1987 NCAA basketball championship. And now I understand that Doc Bowen has planned a little reception for you at his place, so I'll close with what I understand to be a popular Indiana benediction: "If I don't see you in the future, I'll see you in the pasture." [Laughter] Thank you all, and God bless you.

Coach Knight. Mr. President, thank you very much for taking the time and allowing us to bring this group of young men here to visit with you this afternoon. I have here on behalf of the team—really not just the team, but from the State of Indiana, where I think you well know you have a tremendous amount of supporters—a jacket that represents both the State of Indiana and Indiana University. And basketball being a big thing in our State, I also thought I'd make in red—our colors—when we brought it to you. So, I'd like to give you this jacket on behalf of really the State of Indiana. I think you'll find it's your size.

The President. Thank you very much. Coach Knight. I think as a basketball team we took a lot of pride in the fact that we were a pretty tough team. We came from behind the lot in some critical situations. And I think we talked about what we'd like to say that would be most appropriate to you. And on behalf of our players and coaches, it would be this: Mr. President, I think you have shown all of us across America what it's like to be tough in critical situations, and we have a great appreciation for your mental toughness and your competitiveness in the situations in which you've been involved. And I think all of us in this country appreciate that more than anything else. And I would hope our basketball team reflects those same ideals as you have during the time you've been here in the Presidency. Thank you very much for giving us that.

The President. Thank you very much. Coach Knight. Yes, sir, thank you.

The President. Thank you. We're a day late. I could have used this yesterday on Capitol Hill. [Laughter]

Steve Alford. Mr. President, just like Coach said, this is a tremendous honor for all the players and coaching staff, and we certainly appreciate you taking the time out to visit with us and letting us have the opportunity to visit with you here at the White House. And we'd like to present to you a team ball—autographed ball by all the players and coaching staff representing the championship that we just won. And Todd Meier would like to present you with a hat and a shirt— [laughter] —again, representing Indiana and the title that we just won. And Daryl Thomas would like to present you with a Indiana basketball sweater. [Laughter]

The President. Well, thank you all.

Steve Alford. Thank you very much.

The Vice President. Do you need any help carrying that stuff?

The President. What?

The Vice President. Let me take care of your jumper, you can carry the ball.

The President. Now, don't get out of my sight. [Laughter] Well, thank you all very much. And thank all of you, and again, congratulations!

Note: The President spoke at 2:07 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his opening remarks, he referred to Secretary of Health and Human Services Otis R. Bowen.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks to the Indiana University Hoosiers on Winning the National Collegiate Athletic Association Basketball Championship Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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