Obama welcomes Baylor, NCAA women’s basketball champions

Originally published on shfwire.com for the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire.

Obama welcomed the NCAA champions to the White House and praised team members for their community work. Photo by Emily Siner

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama filled out his bracket for the NCAA women’s basketball tournament in March with Baylor University’s Lady Bears as the winning team.

Four months later, he congratulated the NCAA champions in person at the White House.

“I want to thank all the outstanding young women who are behind me, and the coach, for making my bracket look good – at least on the women’s side,” Obama said Wednesday as he welcomed the team. In the men’s tournament, he picked the University of North Carolina, which made it to the Elite Eight.

Meeting the president was the cherry on top of a sweet season for the women’s basketball team of Baylor University, a Christian university in Waco, Texas. Led by head coach Kim Mulkey, the Lady Bears beat the Notre Dame Irish in the final game of the NCAA women’s basketball championship, with a generous lead of 80-61.

The Baylor Bears, 2012 NCAA women’s basketball champions, and Coach Kim Mulkey gave President Barack Obama a Baylor basketball

“I picked Baylor over Notre Dame, but I have to say, I wasn’t the only one.  It wasn’t that hard,” Obama said as the audience laughed. “Because if there’s one thing to describe this team, it was dominant.”

The team finished with an untarnished 40-0 record. It is the first in NCAA history to win 40 games in a season.

This was the final season for Lindsay Palmer, a graduate of Tulsa Union High School in Tulsa, Okla. Obama acknowledged Palmer and the two other seniors who “anchored this team for four of the most successful years in school history,” he said.

“Sometimes you have to pinch yourself now that the season’s over,” Mulkey said in a news conference with reporters after the ceremony.

Brittney Griner, a rising senior from Houston led the team with 26 points in the championship game. Her success earned her a host of awards, including ESPN’s Female Athlete of the Year and Female College Athlete of the Year. Obama called her “the new face of women’s basketball.”

Griner, who presented Obama with a personalized Baylor jersey, said meeting him was “breathtaking.”

“He’s taller than what I thought,” the 6-foot-8-inch power forward reflected after the president’s welcome. “Wish we could have gotten a little game in. That would have been pretty cool.”

Audience members snapped photos of the President on their cameras, smartphones and iPads. Photo by Emily Siner

Obama, who is 6-foot-1, has played with other visiting teams, but not this one.

“There have been times in the past where I shot around a little bit with the visiting team,” he said, “but this time I don’t think I can get my shot off, so I’m not doing that this year.”

Destiny Williams, who hails from Benton Harbor, Mich., said meeting the president was an honor.

“We’re just going to cherish it for the rest of our lives,” the rising senior said.

This is the second time a president has welcomed the Baylor Bears women’s basketball team. In 2005, Mulkey’s fifth year as head coach, the team won its first NCAA championship. The team  took a trip to the White House to meet Texas native George W. Bush.

The Bears’ goal for next year? Win another national championship, of course.

“We all want to come back here,” Williams said.

Obama, for one, thinks they will.

“I suspect that they’re the odds-on favorite for my bracket next year as well,” he said.