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Public Papers - 1991

Remarks on Meeting the National Collegiate Athletic Association Men's and Women's Basketball Champions


Good morning, and please be seated. Let me salute our Vice President and our Secretary of Education, the latter fairly well-known in the circles in Tennessee from which he has just come. But we're delighted -- Dan and I are delighted that he's a part of our administration, and we're already grateful for that Tennessee touch as we try to do something to help kids all across our country. Not instantly, it's not going to happen all at once, but we've got a wonderful program. And I just was in proselytizing, trying to get all this talent on my right and on my left involved in the future in their own way, but that's what it's going to take.

I'm delighted to be here. Of course, I'm glad to see Coach K on my left over here, Mike Krzyzewski. He was a graduate of the West Point class 1969. And I see one of my trusted right-hand people from the State Department here, but I understand that there may be others of your classmates, but Bob Kimmitt is a key member of the State Department. I welcome the staff of the Blue Devils and the players. I see that Pat has an armful here, but I welcome her and her assistants. I offered her relief to find somebody to volunteer. I figured maybe Senator Helms or former Congressman Mizell would hold the baby, but no, she'd have none of that. [Laughter] But, Pat, we welcome you and your assistants.

We have with us today representatives of the Midnight Basketball League. I was over there last week in Baltimore and was so impressed by what Mr. Standifer and others are doing to help these young people. They are Points of Light for an entire nation. High school championship teams are here from DeMatha High School, coached by Morgan Wootten; and from Madison High School, by Pat Deegan. I assume it's these pros over here, but welcome all. We're delighted you're here.

And let me just say that just a few feet from here, in this State Dining Room, Yogi Berra once said of a state dinner, ``How could you get a conversation started in there? Everybody was talking too much.'' [Laughter]

Well, today all of America is talking. And they're talking about these two teams, your incredible championships. And they're calling it Blue Devil destiny or yet another Volunteer victory.

Consider first how Tennessee won its third title in just 5 years, showing what Hemingway termed ``grace under pressure'' -- that depth and quickness, shooting, intelligence, poise, and yes, strength of character which embodies a champion.

In the Good Book, it reads, ``And a little child shall lead them.'' Well, here the little child was Tyler, Pat's kid, a 6-month-old son. And before the title game against Virginia, Pat put him in a t-shirt, I'm told, with a Cavaliers mascot crossed out -- they X-ed him out -- then presented her son to the team. The gift helped the Vols upset Virginia in overtime. Mission Impossible became Mission Achieved.

Dena Head spurred that mission, scoring 28 points in the championship game. So did teammate Daedra Charles, 19 points and 12 rebounds; Jodie Adams, whose last-second three-pointers helped get the Lady Vols to the title game; Peggy Evans, the sixth woman, great center; Lisa Harrison, great passer; Kelli Casteel, the blue collar Lady Vol and Most Valuable Player in the year's mideast regional. Together, you and your team helped Pat win her third NCAA championship title, more than any coach but John Wooden and Adolph Rupp. She's fast becoming the most famous legend to come out of Tennessee since Davey Crockett. [Laughter]

Then there's the pride -- I will switch over here -- the pride of Tennessee's neighboring State. Five times in the last 6 years, including the last 4, Duke had made the Final Four. This year, you made a good thing even better. First, you stunned unbeaten UNLV in one of the greatest games in NCAA tournament history. I happened to catch the end of that one, and it was sensational. And next, you beat Kansas in the title game with one of the youngest teams in your tenure, coach: two seniors, three juniors, three sophomores, and five freshmen.

Bobby Hurley never had that quandary. His craft is basketball, and he is a virtuoso on the court, and so is Christian Laettner -- and the Final Four's Most Valuable Player. Grant Hill, Thomas Hill added to the Blue Devils' hit parade. And seniors Greg Koubek and Clay Buckley have set a record that can never be broken. They made it -- and this one can never be broken -- they made it to four Final Fours. Together the Blue Devils slam-dunked opponents and seized Duke's first-ever championship.

Coach K, like Pat, you showed that nice guys can finish first. And moreover, your team, like Pat's, proved the scholar athlete is not a contradiction in terms.

Let me repeat what you said about your kids, about your players: Everything in their lives doesn't hinge on a basket or a rebound, so they can rationalize when there's a roadblock, when maybe they should stay on the same avenue a little longer.

At Duke and Tennessee, that avenue leads to graduation. Both schools have high academic standards. Each recruits aggressively but honestly and openly. And both stay within the rules. Over the last decade, more than 90 percent of Duke and Tennessee players got their diplomas -- over 90 percent of the players got their diplomas. Both teams have higher graduation rates than the student bodies at their institutions. Like many of your fellow alumni, you players will make an even greater difference after graduation than before.

I ought to tell the rest of our audience that I -- a little more about this. I met with these players and asked them to continue their volunteers efforts toward educational excellence. And I want to help them energize our educational system at all levels. I'm proud to report that there seem to be enthusiastic agreement -- it's not obligation but it's a privilege to be able to help others.

In a real sense, the student athletes from Duke and Tennessee have become a metaphor for our national education strategy, a long-term movement that touches every school and student in America. You set high goals and you reach them. You excelled in the classroom. You demonstrated the kind of commitment and determination that we hope all students will adopt in the future. You showed why education is our most enduring legacy, vital to everything we are and can become.

For that I salute you. I thank you for what you've done and are doing today. And I just can't tell you what a pleasure it is to have both of these outstanding champion teams to the White House. Thank you all very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:25 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander; Mike Krzyzewski, men's basketball coach at Duke University; Robert Michael Kimmitt, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; Pat Summitt, women's basketball coach at the University of Tennessee, and her son, Tyler; Senator Jesse Helms; former Representative Wilmer D. Mizell, Sr., Executive Director of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports; Van Standifer, founder of the Midnight Basketball League; and basketball coaches Morgan Wooten of DeMatha High School and Pat Deegan of Madison High School.

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