President Obama Meets the Jayhawks
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Being a student-athlete at the University of Kansas includes several encounters with history, but Thursday reached a new level. During President Barack Obama’s visit to Lawrence, the Kansas men’s basketball team met the U.S. Commander in Chief.
President Barack Obama is the first-sitting
United States president to visit KU
in more than 100 years.Obama became the fourth-sitting United States president to visit KU, but is the first in more than 100 years. Prior to Obama’s visit, William H. Taft was the most recent in 1911. Ulysses S. Grant (1873) and Rutherford B. Hayes (1879) were the other two presidents to visit KU while still in office. The Jayhawks gathered in Hadl Auditorium to await the president, and there was no doubt they were witnessing history.
“I don’t even know how to explain it, it was such a good experience,” sophomore Wayne Selden, Jr., said. “It was amazing just to be part of history, not just as a basketball team, but as people.”
Like Obama’s mother, junior Perry Ellis also hails from Wichita, Kansas. He couldn’t agree more with his teammate on his excitement to meet the most-powerful man in the world.
“It’s not an opportunity where many people get to meet him,” Ellis said. “I’m blessed and honored to have been able to do that. It was an awesome experience and we’ll never forget it.”
Head coach Bill Self was complimentary of the work done campus-wide to host the President in Lawrence, noting the event was first class and one the University of Kansas should be proud of. After the team spoke to Obama, a conversation that Self estimated to be 15 minutes in length, he received instant confirmation that his players appreciated and respected the opportunity.
“I have a pretty good relationship with our guys, but very rarely do they text me out of the blue and say, ‘Hey coach, how are you doing today?'” Self said. “But after this today, half of the team immediately texted me to say, ‘Coach that was awesome, thanks for allowing us to be a part of that.’ I know our guys all felt very honored and privileged to be a part of that today.”
Self talked about the president’s humor, how he still has a little speed on the court and even offered to answer players’ questions on how to improve their own skills. Just moments before Obama took the stage in Anschutz Pavilion to discuss issues much bigger than basketball, he had another piece of solid advice to offer the Jayhawks.
“He said, ‘You need to worry about your academics, too, you didn’t come here just to play ball.'” Self said. “I told him that ‘Mr. President, overall team GPA: 2.93.’ You know what he said? ‘Got to get it up to a 3.0.’ Basically telling them to not ever be satisfied, which I thought was pretty cool for our guys to hear.”
Upon concluding his brief visit with the small contingent of Jayhawks in Hadl, the President had nearly 7,000 more waiting for him inside Anschutz. President Obama spoke for more than half an hour about his family’s background in Kansas and shared his passion for his own policies and for the people of the United States.
“It’s a big deal for everybody, but you look at people like Svi (Mykhailiuk) and who knows how Svi has viewed the President of the United States after coming here from the Ukraine, but he filmed the whole thing – he was really into it,” Self said. “Then you think of kids, especially African-American kids, who maybe come from a tough environments like Cliff (Alexander) and Jamari (Traylor) being from Chicago, he wanted to know right away what high schools they went to. He made our kids feel special.”
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