Kentucky gives Calipari raise as Cats visit White House

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama didn't pick the University of Kentucky Wildcats to win this year's NCAA men's basketball title, but the team on Friday gave him some loot anyway.

John Calipari, left, and national champion Kentucky present President Obama with a signed basketball and jersey.

John Calipari, left, and national champion Kentucky present President Obama with a signed basketball and jersey.

John Calipari, left, and national champion Kentucky present President Obama with a signed basketball and jersey.
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At a ceremony in the White House East Room, Darius Miller gave the president his No. 1 jersey. And the team gave the nation's most fanatical college basketball fan a signed ball — tossed to him, actually, from about a half-court's distance, by Eloy Vargas — and a championship ring.

"This is some nice gear," Obama joked, admiring his new acquisitions.

The president invited the Wildcats to the White House to honor the team for winning its eighth NCAA basketball championship.

As the basketball world knows, Obama has made his NCAA basketball bracket choices for four years on ESPN. This year, he put Kentucky in his Final Four picks, but he didn't tap the Wildcats to win it all.

Instead, the president liked North Carolina beating what he called "unbelievably talented" Kentucky in the championship game. But that didn't happen: UNC was knocked out by Kansas.

On April 1, Kentucky defeated Kansas 67-59, winning the title — and really messing up the Obama bracket.

"Congratulations to the Kentucky Wildcats on your eighth national championship," Obama said moments after he entered the East Room, the Wildcats and coach John Calipari on risers behind him and a raucuous crowd of Kentucky fans rocking the crystal chandeliers.

"What I've learned is that if I make the right picks, I look like a genius. But if things go the other way, then a team like Kentucky gets to come to my house and remind me in person that I was wrong," the president told the team, to a sea of smiles and much laughter.

"Of course, I knew Kentucky was good," Obama said. But he thought that the team was too loaded with freshmen.

"Keep in mind that this time last year, three of the Wildcats' five starters were still in high school. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist couldn't even vote yet," the president said, turning to the small forward and receiving a roomful of laughs.

"But, let's face it, sometimes talent trumps experience," Obama said, adding that he admired the Wildcats' selfless style of play.

"They did it as a team," the president said.

Obama praised some of the team members by name, at one point referring to Miller by observing: "I'm pretty sure coach Cal is right that if Darius decides to run for governor, he'll do all right in Kentucky."

Calipari spoke for the team.

"Mr. President, on behalf of the Big Blue Nation, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, we are honored and humbled to be here," Calipari said.

"This team, when they won that championship on that court in New Orleans, they were jumping up and down not saying, 'We did it! We won!' They were saying, 'We're going to the White House! We're going to the White House!' Because they wanted to meet you."

Then Miller gave Obama his jersey, which he wore for his four years on the court for Kentucky.

When Vargas heaved the team-signed basketball to Obama, he grabbed it cleanly and coolly and appeared to look around for a hoop. But only the portraits of George and Martha Washington stared back at him.

Anthony Davis — "Chicago!" the president greeted him — gave Obama the 2012 NCAA championship ring in a polished wooden box.

The beaming president then posed with the team, holding up that No. 1 jersey; the players, perhaps together for the last time, all smiles around him.

Obama shook hands with the players before he went back to work. As he left the East Room, the crowd erupted into a familiar chant: "C-A-T-S! Cats! Cats! Cats! C-A-T-S! Cats! Cats! Cats!"
Kentucky coach John Calipari is getting a raise following the Wildcats' NCAA basketball title in April.

The school says Friday it awarded an 8.3 percent increase annually in compensation from media rights and endorsements over the remaining seven years of his deal for a guaranteed $36.5 million.

Calipari will receive $5.2 million annually from endorsements, base salary and retention bonuses for each of the next six years. The deal increases to $5.3 million in 2018-19. He can also earn up to $850,000 a year in performance bonuses.

Kentucky also announced it had extended the contracts of assistant coaches Orlando Antigua, Kenny Payne and John Robic.


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