KSR was fortunate enough to have a reader in the media corps Friday at the White House, and he gladly rose to the challenge to report his observations for the site. Please join me in welcoming Kellen Clemons!
Hello from our Nation’s Capital to Kentucky Sports Radio and the Big Blue Nation. If you saw my earlier recap, you know I managed to attend the President’s remarks to UK basketball team. I applied for a media pass, was approved, was in the same room as the President of the United States, Coach Calipari and the National Champion boys in blue, and I get to write about it all for my favorite sports blog. Let me describe how I felt during this whole endeavor:
Hopefully everyone managed to catch The President’s remarks to the National Champion Kentucky Wildcats. Regardless of your political persuasion, this was a genuinely wonderful event that meant a great deal to these players, the coaches and I know means a lot to me as a fan. It had been far too long since we saw our team in the White House so enjoy one of the final moments of an amazing Kentucky team.
After arriving at the White House I had to wait for a while at security while my bag was checked. Then someone escorted the other media types and me back to the press room. You know, the one you always see on TV with the blue chairs? I spoke with a few of my “peers” and most seemed to be either sports reporters in general or from Kentucky related media outlets. We were then shown to the East Room and the team came in to take a few group photos.
Evidently, there was a reception beforehand which I couldn’t get access to. Eventually they joined us in the East Room (they were the folks in the chairs). I got the impression this was not the usual group you would see in the East Room. I have never seen that many ‘K Fund’ pins in one room before. Also, the crowd struck me as generally young, most people were young adults.
One of the big takeaways for me was that crowd. We are a rowdy bunch. When the basketball team was introduced everyone cheered. And I suppose standing and clapping would be normal for and introduction at the White House, but the crowd was whistling and loudly cheering. I even heard a couple “We love you”s and “We’re so proud of you. The crowd gave the same sort of ovation to the President when he entered. I was standing next to a non-sports & non-Kentucky writer and he was visibly shocked by the whole entrance. At the end of the whole event the audience started chanting C! A! T! S! CATS! CATS! CATS! And you could immediately tell who the Kentuckians and sports people in the room were and who the usual political reporters were. The political reporters were taken aback by the cheering as the team departed. One reporter, who I think simply had hearing difficulties, had to ask one of us what the cheer was.
The President’s remarks were pretty solid I thought. He focused in on two themes: Selflessness and Teamwork. There was a great few lines were he discussed Anthony Davis willingness to take a smaller scoring roll and help his team in other ways during the title game. Honestly, not the best speech I have ever heard the President make. He paused at a few inopportune moments that I don’t think he intended to pause at (such as his comment on how long it had been since our previous title; the crowd was not amused by that one). The best remarks though were those regarding Vargas and Miller obtaining the diplomas and the community service this team has done as a whole. The President pointing out the positive contributions our team has made to our state and community goes a long way towards countering the negative attitudes people sometimes have towards us.
Ms. Tyler is correct. From what I was hearing from others in the room and in the press room afterwards, President Obama was surprised by the gifts the team gave him. And the expression on his face and his hesitation showed he was genuinely touched. Everybody knew the team would give him a Kentucky jersey and most figured it would say 44 or 8 on the back. But, giving him the #1 from Darius Miller? Didn’t see that coming and it definitely meant a lot to The President and to a “future Governor of Kentucky” Darius Miller.
Also, that ring seemed to surprise everyone except the team. I went back and looked through a couple of previous years’ National Champion receptions and I didn’t see where any other team had done that. Definitely surprised President Obama. Anthony Davis was smiling the whole time.
Eloy Vargas is possibly the bravest man alive. You all saw him pass that autographed ball to The President. Yes, the president did flash his hands for Vargas to make that pass. Personally I would have been terrified that I’d break something. But Eloy is a man of confidence. He didn’t just pass the ball like he was tossing it to a friend. That was an in game kind of pass. There was a loud audible “pop” in the room when the president caught it. You go Wloy.
I know we say it a lot but, Calipari is a marketing a public relations genius. There are very few people who have a stage presence and ability to connect with an audience that can compete with President Obama’s. But Calipari definitely held his own at the podium. As you can see in one of the photos, his remarks got great reactions from the crowd and the President. And if you follow Coach Cal on twitter you saw the photo of the ring they gave to the President. How great is that? He can go in to a recruit’s house for a visit, pull out his phone and show them that picture and say “Do you want to be the one that hands it to him next year?” I can’t help but believe that Calipari looks at every situation and thinks about how he can use it to improve the brand that is the “University of Kentucky”. Regardless of your politics, I think we can all agree that Calipari and the team’s reception with the President made the University of Kentucky and all of us look good.
This was a truly amazing experience and the perfect cap to this season, at least for myself. My parents did good and made sure I was raised a true blue Kentucky fan. But, to be honest, until this year I had never witnessed a Kentucky basketball game in person. There are lots of reasons for that: tickets are hard to get, tickets are expensive, and while I visit home as much as I can I spend most of my time here in D.C. This year was special for me because I got to see the team in person for my first and second time ever. My parents and I got tickets to the first two rounds of the tournament in Louisville. The games actually began the day after my birthday. I like to think this dunk was Davis and Miller’s birthday present to me (Thanks guys, let me know where I should send the Thank You cards). Watching every moment as this team rolled through every opponent and got the title for the first time in my adult life…well I now understand how older Kentucky fans feel when they talk about National Titles from previous years. And that I was there at these three moments in UK history is something I will tell stories about years from now. Things like this are why we love this team and this school.
Thanks again to Tyler Thompson for letting me write for KSR for the weekend and to my friend @chrisgeidner , a political reporter, for his advice and insights on going to the White House.