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Archive for Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Jayhawks arrive in capital

Players, coaches begin visit with sobering trip to army hospital

There are many perks to winning a national championship - and one of them is meeting the president of the United States.

June 3, 2008

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— Players on Kansas University's national-champion men's basketball team have a busy, carefree couple of days in store in the nation's capital.

There are monuments to visit and heads of state to meet.

First, though, came a sobering trip to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the self-described "clinical center of gravity of American military medicine."

The Jayhawks met with Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, toured the facilities and met with wounded servicemen at the facility for nearly two hours Monday as part of their two-day visit to D.C.

None of them, coach Bill Self predicted, would leave unmoved by what they saw.

"One of the things I hope they all take back after today is, they should understand that what we do is important, but it's also recreational," Self said. "They should appreciate the freedoms we have because we have other people standing up for them. These other guys are playing for keeps."

The Jayhawks visited the center's Military Advance Training Facility, where soldiers injured in battle rehabilitate. Many were amputees injured in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Then the Jayhawks were recognized at a short reception with Geren.

"We've labeled today as, 'National champions meet national heroes,'" Geren said in his address to the Jayhawks. "I am confident you will go away from here feeling uplifted."

Self was presented a plaque by Geren and a crimson-and-blue lei by soldier William Hamilton, a 1981 KU graduate whose daughter will be a senior at KU. Hamilton is stationed in Hawaii.

"It was great to get to talk to the Wounded Warriors," Self said. "We met several KU fans. We met two soldiers from Kansas. One of them had been going through rehab for around six months. The other had just gotten there and had several surgeries. It was amazing to see the positive attitude of everybody. Everyone is eager to jump right back in there, no matter what disability they had. I mean, you see a guy who lost his arm or lost both legs, and he's telling you how he plans to be back to work in a short amount of time. It's unbelievable."

Self in particular was struck by the soldiers' youth.

"I talked to one guy who was older, and by older I mean around maybe 30," Self said. "Most of them are in the 21- to 24-(years-old) range. He said he didn't plan to be here very long. He had his leg amputated. He said it had bothered him for 2 1/2 years and he wanted to get it dealt with so he could start running again. You hear stories like that, and I don't think there's any way that wouldn't touch our players.

"One of the guys they talked to was from the same conference as Brad Witherspoon. He knew Brad when he played. So these are the same aged kids as our players, and they're doing something that so important. I think, yes, it definitely hit home with them."

Not all of the Jayhawks made the trip.

Several players - like Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun, Russell Robinson and Brandon Rush - scattered in preparation for the upcoming NBA Draft. None of those players, nor Brady Morningstar, took the team charter to D.C. on Monday and did not arrive in time for the Walter Reed visit.

All except Jackson - who Self said had a "family situation; nothing life-threatening, just something he had to go home for" - were expected to trickle into D.C. well in advance of today's main event, their recognition as national champions at the White House with President Bush.

The Jayhawks were to take an evening hit-the-highlights bus tour of the city Monday. Today, it's off to the White House for the Rose Garden ceremony at 9 a.m., followed by a visit to the Supreme Court, the Capitol and a meeting with the Kansas delegation before flying back to Topeka.

Self, for one, can't wait.

"I've never spent much time in D.C. at all," he said. "I've never been to the White House. I think I'm looking forward to it more than the players."

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