COLUMBIA, S.C. — What started as an effort to raise money for Haiti earthquake relief led to the University of Kentucky basketball team being thanked via telephone by President Barack Obama today.
And it was clear the nation's No. 1 ranking basketball fan knows the nation's top-ranked team well.
Obama and the Wildcats participated on the phone call today in Columbia, where UK is playing South Carolina tonight. The call was to thank the team for raising more than $1.3 million through its Hoops for Haiti telethon last week.
"I think this is just a great testament to each of you individually, is a great testament to your program, and is a great testament to Kentucky," Obama said. "It shows a lot of character. Some of you are going to be going on to the NBA. Some of you are going to be doing other things in your lives. I hope that spirit of doing for others continues."
The call came a little after 1:30 p.m. to a phone in the media room at the Colonial Life Arena. Coach John Calipari sat at the podium, with junior Patrick Patterson next to him, while the other players stood next to them.
The phone rang. Calipari looked around, then pushed the button.
A cheerful voice on the other end of the line said: "Hi it's Katie Duncan calling for President Obama."
Calipari hesitated a second, then smiled and said, "OK?"
The room laughed.
After about 30 seconds, a familiar voice came on the line.
"Well, man, I am honored to speak to the No. 1 team in the country, a few days after it happened," Obama said.
Calipari thanked Obama for the call, mentioning the importance of the Hoops for Haiti program. Then he told the president he had a few players who wanted to speak to him. First was Patterson.
"Hey, Patrick!" Obama said.
Patterson thanked the president "on behalf of the team for what you're doing for the whole country." He said how much the Hoops for Haiti program meant, and added how much Obama's leadership inspired them. Obama thanked Patterson in return.
At that point, Calipari jumped back in and said freshman John Wall wanted to speak.
"Hey! What's going on All-Star!" Obama said. "I've been watching you."
More laughter from the room, and a sheepish grin from Wall.
Wall then invited Obama to a game in Lexington, and "maybe a game of horse."
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