WASHINGTON – The visits have been a constant through eight years of the Obama presidency.
On Tuesday, they mingled for the final time. President Barack Obama opened the doors to the White House for the national champion UConn women’s basketball team.
It was the sixth time Obama honored Geno Auriemma’s team and the fourth year in a row. Obama, in the final year of his term, has come to joke about the frequent East Room ceremonies with the man he calls “Coach Geno.”
In his final visit – which lasted for more than 13 minutes – the president had nothing but praise for the 11-time champion.
“I have a feeling this team will be back again,” Obama said. “I will not be. I’ll be honest Coach, I will miss the visits. The annual phone calls. But I just want to say how incredibly proud I am of all that they have achieved. These women have broken so many records. Throughout they have done it with grace and good humor and good sportsmanship and an outlook that serves as an example for young athletes, boys and girls, to look after.”
Obama met with the team before the afternoon ceremony and the Huskies gifted him with an engraved chair. And the coach and the president chatted.
Auriemma, when addressing the audience at the ceremony, recalled speaking to Obama during the final year of his first term.
“I remember saying to President Obama, ‘You know, your fourth year is coming up and, I said, I don’t know what the future holds . I know we’re going to be back,’ ” Auriemma said. “And he said, ‘So am I.’ ”
Auriemma talked about Obama’s interest in basketball and the fact that he picks UConn every year in the NCAA tournament. He also said he’s going to miss coming to the White House and seeing Obama.
“But if you’ve been paying attention to what’s been going on in the media these last six or seven months, as time goes by we’re probably going to miss him more than he misses us,” Auriemma said.
The event also served as a last reunion for the team. Seniors Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson have moved on to the WNBA. The trio – along with senior Briana Pulido – graduated from UConn Sunday.
But they were all at the White House Tuesday, posing with the president.
“Celebrate what we’ve done, one last time,” Stewart said. “It’s great.”
Auriemma first brought his team to the White House in 1995, when Bill Clinton was president. UConn was also hosted by George W. Bush and the past six visits have been with Obama.
“It doesn’t ever get old,” Auriemma said.
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