WASHINGTON - This is what you get for ever picking North Carolina, Mr. President.
President Barack Obama on Thursday heaped praise on the Duke men's basketball team for winning the NCAA championship last month - a Blue Devils squad that capped its run in one of the more exciting title games in recent memory, a 61-59 contest against upstart Butler that came down to the final shot.
But standing in the Rose Garden on a sticky day, Obama was still taking heat for (correctly) picking North Carolina, Duke's rival, to win it all in 2009. Duke's coach, Mike Krzyzewski, bristled a bit at Obama at the time and said the president should stick to fixing the economy. The two have since made up.
"It was nothing personal," Obama joked on Thursday with the coach and team standing behind him. "Just trying to win some money."
A smiling Krzyzewski returned the favor by giving Obama a framed copy of this year's winning bracket - with Duke right in the center.
Obama lauded Duke for growing as a team and being part of their community. After their moment at the White House, the players and coaches were headed to the Pentagon to thank members of the military and then to Arlington National Cemetery to pay respects.
The president commended the coach for his style, quoting Krzyzewski's philosophy as saying a team is like a hand, which can attack with more force when it comes together like a fist. "Very subtle, Coach," Obama said.
The hoops-loving Obama spent time talking to the players and taking photos before the ceremony.
"For him to take the time out to greet us in such a way is just terrific," Krzyzewski said.