NCAA champ Duke evens the score at White House

McClatchy NewspapersMay 27, 2010 

President Barack Obama receives a Duke University jersey during a ceremony honoring the NCAA basketball champion Blue Devils. (Alex Brandon / AP)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said it before Duke University Coach Mike Krzyzewski even had the chance.

"Payback is sweet, isn't it, coach?" Obama asked his guest Thursday.

The Rose Garden ceremony honoring the 2010 NCAA men's basketball champions was Krzyzewski's fourth trip to the White House.

It was his first chance to personally remind the current leader of the free world that Duke shouldn't be counted out of anyone's bracket, even the president's.

Everyone remembered Obama's top choice for the 2009 champion — North Carolina, Duke's intrastate archrival.

Obama invoked the Tar Heels almost as soon as he strode out of the Oval Office, reminding the audience that he had picked North Carolina a year ago to win it all. And that Coach K had been a bit snarky about the whole thing, telling reporters the president ought to focus on the economy rather than his bracket.

"He basically told me to stick it," the president recalled.

"It wasn't anything personal," Obama said sheepishly of his 2009 bracket. "I was just trying to win some money."

He paused. "I was right."

But that was last year. On Wednesday, Obama talked about Duke's last-second play against Butler in the championship game, which Duke won 61-59. He praised Krzyzewski's charitable contributions to Durham, N.C., and greeted the seniors by name.

"My homeboy from the Chicago area," he said of Jon Scheyer.

"That was a pretty cool thing," Scheyer said later.

Krzyzewski, in return, praised Obama as charismatic and warm, a guy who can talk hoops. He talked of the state of North Carolina's prowess on the court, with four championships in a decade — Duke in 2001 and 2010, North Carolina in 2005 and 2009.

Of course, Obama noted, the reigning champs are Coach K and his Blue Devils: "This year, he went out with all these guys and he won, so he could come to the White House and crow about it."

Coach K, standing behind Obama and to his right, didn't crow, really.

He did nod his head, however.

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