Visiting the White House and meeting the president has become a privilege bestowed upon national champions and a tradition for UConn basketball teams. The Huskies have won a combined 10 championships — seven by the women — and made eight trips to the nation's capital, with the ninth coming Monday as Jim Calhoun and the men meet with President Barack Obama.
Geno Auriemma's was the first UConn team to be honored in a ceremony by the president after it finished an undefeated season with a victory over Tennessee for its first title. The coach and his players, joined by men's champion UCLA, were humbled by the visit.
President Bill Clinton: "People have to say these are the best teams in college basketball because they not only had the best records, but they were the best teams."
Auriemma: "I thought it was going to be like Forrest Gump, that I was going to have to say, 'I have to go pee.' I usually handle things pretty well, but thinking about going up there was kind of difficult."
The men were honored for the first time after defeating Duke. They went in mid-October, a day before the team was set to begin defense of its national championship.
President Clinton: "When does practice start?"
Calhoun: "We've had marvelous things happen to us over the past six months, but this really is the highlight."
Though the women won their second national championship by defeating Tennessee, their visit with Clinton, scheduled for mid-July, was postponed and ultimately canceled as Clinton participated in a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders at Camp David.
An undefeated season and a victory over Oklahoma in the national championship game took the women to the White House for the second time.
President George W. Bush: "I want to thank my friend Johnny Rowland, the governor of Connecticut. He said the Connecticut women's basketball team is pretty good this year. … They're going to go undefeated. I said, 'Sure, Governor.' Thanks for making me look bad, Johnny."
Jessica Moore: "This day has been awesome. We were very excited to meet the president and see the White House. We were able to get a picture with him and shake his hand. That was a really great opportunity.'"
The women made a trip for a second consecutive year after beating Tennessee and were joined at the White House by the champion Syracuse men.
President Bush: "These ladies can flat play basketball, and they are a great credit to women's athletics. They'll probably be back next year, too."
Diana Taurasi: "It's a little extra pressure, but it's fun to be here. … I mean, how many times do you get to see the president in your life, and get to shake hands with him? It's fun."
Both teams were honored in a joint ceremony at the White House after becoming the first school to win titles in men's and women's basketball in the same year. The men defeated Georgia Tech, and the women beat Tennessee. Taurasi, who had already begun her professional career, was among those missing from the ceremony, leading to jokes that her salary would help an economic revival.
President Bush: "Maybe now is the moment I should admit that I was born in Connecticut."
Calhoun: "There are a lot bigger things out there than just playing the game of basketball."
The women went 39-0 and became the first team to win every game by 10 or more points, capped by a victory over Louisville. President Barack Obama challenged the players to a game of P-I-G on an outdoor court at the White House, which Obama won.
President Obama: "It was this program, as much as anything, in the mid-1990s that helped propel women's basketball into the national consciousness. Thanks to these women, and those that came before them, young women look at themselves differently, especially the tall ones like my daughters."
Renee Montgomery: "In 20 years, I'll remember that I could not make one jump shot at the White House. My clothes hindered me. I couldn't extend my arms."
Rain prevented the women from having a rematch with the president, but the Huskies did follow through on another undefeated season with a championship victory over Stanford.
President Obama: "I'd like to point out this team has not lost a game since I was elected president."
Maya Moore: "That was pretty neat for us to hear. He told us that last year, as well, and it was cool to hear it again."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times