NCAA champion KU makes traditional trip to White House

WASHINGTON -- Nice comeback, Kansas. Pretty sweet welcome back, too.

In a Rose Garden ceremony and an Oval Office tour, President Bush honored the University of Kansas as the 2008 NCAA men's basketball champions on Tuesday.

With a remarkable flourish in the final game, the Jayhawks pulled out the title for the first time since 1988, when the team was last lauded at the White House.

"You brought new glory to one of our nation's most storied basketball programs, and you gave your fans all across America one more reason to chant: Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!" Bush said, using the school's famous chant to the delight of a loyal Kansas crowd.

In a year when all four No. 1 seeds advanced to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament in April, Kansas overcame a more highly touted North Carolina team to make it to the title game. Then, against Memphis, Kansas came back from nine points down with just 2:12 left.

Kansas guard Mario Chalmers hit a 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds left to send the game to overtime, where the Jayhawks dominated the Tigers. KU coach Bill Self called it probably the biggest shot in Kansas history. And Bush certainly seemed impressed, referring to Chalmers as "Super Mario."

"I know you got to be excited about winning an incredibly tough tournament," the president said. "And your fans are excited, and I'm excited to welcome you to the Rose Garden. It's a big deal, as far as I'm concerned, to welcome KU to the Rose Garden."

Bush, a sports fan, clearly enjoys all of the championship ceremonies at the White House. As he usually does at these events, he commended Kansas for showing teamwork and character. And he thanked the team for visiting wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center during its time in Washington.

The president accepted a cap, jersey and basketball from the players and coaches. He gave the ball a firm bounce and it bounded all the way up to his head -- a nice personal rebound from the time last year when he tried the same thing and the ball landed with a thud.

Bush then led the team on a tour of the Oval Office. Self, the coach, later said that hearing from the president in that setting was inspiring.

"We were able to see a side of a man that very few people will be able to see," Self said.