Bush addresses the Jayhawks
The Lawrence Journal-World looks back at the men's basketball season of 2007-2008, in which the Jayhawks claimed the NCAA championship title for the first time in 20 years and its third ever.
Washington Nobody - not even the leader of the free world - knows just how rich the soon-to-be-professional members of Kansas University's men's basketball team will strike it.
But none other than President Bush himself is sure at least some of the Jayhawks will be rolling in it.
"I wish those of you going into pro ball the very best," Bush said in a Rose Garden ceremony Tuesday recognizing the Jayhawks for their 2008 national championship. "Some of us are going to be out of work soon. I may be looking for loans."
Though such remarks come as much from Bush's speechwriters as from his heart, KU coach Bill Self couldn't help but be impressed to meet the president on a more personal level.
Self recalled being awakened by the president the morning after the national championship, after Self had celebrated well into the wee hours. Bush congratulated Self and the Jayhawks and invited them to the White House, urging them to do so quickly before graduation and the lure of pro ball split them too far apart.
"I could tell : I don't know if you could say the president is a regular guy," Self said, "but he's as close to one as possible."
Bush affirmed that impression Tuesday.
After the Rose Garden ceremony, Bush gave the Jayhawks and their coaches a tour of the Oval Office.
"He gave us - I don't know if you'd call it a speech," Self said, "but some words of wisdom. : I thought it was incredible that we were able to see a side of the man very few people are able to see."
He wasn't alone. KU senior Sasha Kaun - who, all signs indicate, likely won't be tapped in the NBA Draft but who nonetheless likely will strike it rich in the Russian pro leagues - was front-and-center for the ceremony, during which Bush was presented with a championship hat, a KU jersey and autographed basketball.
"I was very impressed with him," Kaun said. "It's an honor to be here."
"The president was very down-to-earth," added senior Russell Robinson. "I'm really impressed and happy to be here."
The trip to the White House was the main event in a whirlwind two-day tour of the nation's capital.
Monday, the Jayhawks visited the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where they toured the facilities and visited with wounded servicemen and their families.
Monday evening, they took a two-hour bus tour of several D.C. sites, including the Vietnam War Memorial and the Washington Monument.
After the White House tour and Rose Garden ceremony, they headed off to the Supreme Court and the Capitol, where they were to eat lunch, tour and meet with the Kansas delegation, including senators Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts and congressmen Jerry Moran and Dennis Moore.
Those four - along with former Senator/former Presidential hopeful/Viagra pitchman Bob Dole - were on hand at the Rose Garden, too.
They heard the President wax complimentary, and not just about the Jayhawks' athletic achievements.
"The greatest testament to this team is the character it showed, not only on the court but off," Bush said. "I often say this when I welcome championship teams to the White House, but character means a lot in order to become a champion. This is a team, when teammates lost loved ones, they held players-only meeting to help rally their friends through a difficult time. It's a team that reached out to others in need. Coach Self set the example by launching a foundation to help the children in Lawrence build healthier and more wholesome lives.
"During holidays, the players bought presents for needy families and signed hundred of balls for charity auctions. They ran free basketball clinics for children."
Bush singled out Self - "One of the finest coaches in the land," the President said - and Brandon Rush for his 25-point outing against North Carolina in the national semifinals.
He gave a shout out to the Jayhawks from Texas: "By the way, fellow Texans on the team, nice to see you."
He gave a nod to Mario Chalmers, who hit the miraculous three-point shot that forced overtime in the championship, and he welcomed back Danny Manning, who visited the White House as a member of the 1988 national-championship team and again 20 years later as an assistant coach for another titlist.
But Bush stressed the Jayhawks' greatest strength came not from one individual.
"More than any one player, Americans will remember the way you played as a team," Bush said. "They'll remember stifling defense. They'll remember the way seven different players led your team in scoring during the course of the season. Teamwork is a testament to the leadership of six seniors. It's a testament as well to a coach."
And Self was quick to toss the bouquet right back.
"We tell our players often winners get rewards," Self said afterward. "Winning the championship was incredible. But to be able to come here and do this, and to be able to visit the Walter Reed Medical Center : this is more than we thought it would be."