WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama welcomed the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team to the White House on Tuesday, saying the Huskies - NCAA tournament champions three years in a row - have visited so often they are now qualified to give tours of the executive mansion.
The Huskies capped a 38-1 season by defeating Notre Dame for the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament title in April, the school’s 10th national championship and fifth in the past seven years under head coach Geno Auriemma.
“This is this team’s third visit in a row,” Obama said in the East Room ceremony honoring the Huskies. “They are now certified to provide White House tours. I was telling folks, ‘This is becoming like the annual Christmas tree lighting.’”
Obama, an avid basketball fan, correctly picked the Huskies, led by national player of the year Breanna Stewart, to win the title in his annual tournament bracket predictions.
“I don’t want to jinx it. No team has ever won four in a row. I’m just saying,” Obama said. “You get here one more time, we might have to name the White House basketball court after you. Or at least you can guide the tour.”
Auriemma also had his mind on winning another title.
“This is our fifth time with President Obama and it’s just as meaningful and just as moving for us as the very first time,” Auriemma said. “He’s going to be here one more year. And there’s no better way for him to go out next year than to host us again. So we’ll see you next year.”
Over the past four years, every player who has completed her four years of eligibility at Connecticut has graduated and “that’s something worth celebrating,” Obama said.
“I’ve got two daughters who are tall and gorgeous and athletic. For them to know that they’ve got a whole bunch of people ahead of them who are doing great stuff, it empowers them and it makes me feel very proud to be with these outstanding young women,” he said.
Two years ago, Huskies players playfully gave Obama “bunny ears” - putting up two fingers behind his head - during the White House ceremony.
“And as I said before,” Obama said on Tuesday, “no bunny ears this time.”
Reporting by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Will Dunham