WASHINGTON, D.C. - President Barack Obama didn't pick Kentucky to win the national championship when he filled out his NCAA Tournament bracket. Friday, the Wildcats came to Washington to remind him.
"This was the fourth year that I've filled out my bracket on ESPN," Obama told a full East Room during Kentucky's visit to be honored for winning the NCAA title. "And what I've learned is that if I make the right picks, I look like a genius. And if things go the other way, a team like Kentucky gets to come to my house and remind me in person that I was wrong. It's sort of a double-edged sword."
The president "knew Kentucky was good," he said, but wasn't willing to pick a team so reliant on freshmen.
"Keep in mind, this time last year, three of the Wildcats' five starters were still in high school," Obama said. "Michael Kidd-Gilchrist couldn't even vote yet."
Kentucky came to the White House a month after beating Kansas 67-59 to win its eighth national championship and its first since 1998. It was a trip the players were looking forward to.
"This team, when they won that championship, on that court, they were jumping up and down, not saying, 'We did it, we won!'" UK head coach John Calipari said. "They were saying, 'We're going to the White House!'"
Obama praised UK's teamwork and unselfishness, and his highest praise was reserved for his fellow Chicagoan Anthony Davis, he of the 8-inch high school growth spurt. Obama joked that Davis needed a new suit after growing another inch since arriving at the White House.
"Nobody, I think, was a better example of (teamwork) than Anthony Davis," Obama said. "Nobody's ever seen somebody who didn't have a lot of field goals and yet still controlled the game, and still ended up being the most valuable player (at the Final Four)."
Darius Miller - who "will do all right" if he decides to run for governor one day, Obama said - presented the president with a white UK jersey with "Obama" and the number 1 on the back.
Davis handed Obama a national championship ring, and Eloy Vargas served the president a basketball signed by the entire team via a firm chest pass.
It wasn't the first time Obama has crossed paths with the Kentucky program. Two years ago, he praised Calipari's first UK team for its Hoops for Haiti fundraiser that followed an earthquake that devastated the country.
Obama also praised this team for "doing their share of community service...packing backpacks with food for kids who don't have enough and raising money" for causes that help people across the commonwealth.
The contingent of Kentucky fans who gathered at the White House sent the Cats off the same way they welcomed them at Big Blue Madness in October: with a resounding "C-A-T-S" cheer that filled the East Room.
Seven of UK's players won't return next season, and Calipari will return to the recruiting trail in the coming weeks to fill out his roster. The next Kentucky team may be even more reliant on young players, but Obama didn't sound like he'd repeat the mistake he made with this year's bracket.
"If the next group of Wildcats is anything like this one," Obama said, "I might see them again sometime soon."