Obama chats with 'Cats before game

semerson@thestate.comJanuary 27, 2010 

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 on Tuesday.

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 Tuesday afternoon before UK played South Carolina. 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.

UK freshman John Wall was one of the players who talked to Obama.

"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."

Obama was ready:

"I'm not gonna play horse with you. I don't want to lose, and then you'll have bragging rights for a long time. But what we might do is have a little scrimmage. And I'm gonna make sure that you're on my team. If you're on my team, and Patterson ... I'm gonna book it up so I've got a chance."

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