Since taking office, President Trump has had some difficulty in getting championship sports teams to visit his White House. It’s possible that as a result, he is reducing if not eliminating those traditional ceremonies, if Villanova’s experience is any indication.
The Wildcats, who won the NCAA men’s title in April, won’t be making a trip to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Coach Jay Wright said Thursday. That’s in part because his squad has not been invited, according to Wright, who added that, at this point, a belated visit wouldn’t make the most sense.
“We probably wouldn’t be able to get everybody together,” he said (via Reuters) while speaking at Big East media day at New York’s Madison Square Garden. “We’ve lost staff members, we’ve lost players [to the NBA].”
After winning its second title in three years, Villanova sent four players to the NBA in June’s draft: Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Omari Spellman, and Jalen Brunson. In addition, assistant coach Ashley Howard left to run La Salle’s program.
All of them except Spellman were on the Wildcats' 2016 championship team, which visited Barack Obama’s White House about eight weeks after that triumph. On Thursday, Wright described that trip as “the experience of a lifetime for all of us.”
“It’s just a different time, and I understand it,” the 56-year-old coach added. “So it is what is.”
With Villanova set to miss out on a White House ceremony, that makes Trump 0-8 since taking office in terms of visits from men’s and women’s champions from the NCAA, NBA and WNBA. The Warriors, who have won the past two NBA titles, famously were uninvited by Trump after their 2017 title, following Stephen Curry’s declaration that he and his teammates weren’t interested in going because they were opposed to the president’s statements and policies.
The Lynx, the WNBA’s 2017 champions, were not invited. “It’s hard not to think that gender is playing a role here because of the consistency with which men’s teams are being invited and celebrated,” the team’s coach and general manager, Cheryl Reeve, told The Washington Post in May. “I think it reflects the priorities of this particular administration.”
Sue Bird of the Storm, which captured the WNBA title last month, said shortly after that victory that her squad wasn’t even thinking about hearing from the White House. “At this point, it doesn’t even really need to be discussed,” said Bird, who made such visits in 2010 with the Storm and in 2002 with her NCAA champion Connecticut Huskies. “It’s come up. We paid attention to what happened with Minnesota not getting invited. … We all pay attention and we watch.”
North Carolina’s men’s squad did not make a trip after winning the 2017 NCAA title, but a team spokesman indicated that discussions about a possible visit had taken place with White House officials. “We tried about eight or nine dates and between they couldn’t work out that date, we couldn’t work out that date,” he said last year, “so — we would have liked to have gone, but not going.”
South Carolina’s women’s team eventually turned down a White House invitation after it arrived many months following the Gamecocks' 2017 championship. This year’s women’s champions, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, have not made the trip and have not publicly disclosed whether an invitation has been extended.
By contrast, the past two NCAA champions in football, Clemson and Alabama, have been feted by Trump in ceremonies on the South Lawn. The Astros celebrated their 2017 World Series title with a visit, as did the Penguins, who won last year’s Stanley Cup.
Several members of this year’s NHL champs, the Capitals, said shortly after winning the Cup they would go to the White House, but the owner of the team recently struck a more noncommittal tone. “If we go to the White House, I will go to the White House,” Ted Leonsis told The Post earlier this month. “But they [the players] haven’t made it to that conversation and a vote yet.”
The 2017 Super Bowl winner, the Patriots, visited the White House that year, but with reportedly many fewer players than on a similar trip in 2015. This year’s NFL champions, the Eagles, more or less got the Warriors treatment, with Trump making a show of uninviting the team after several Philadelphia players said they were not going to go.
At least, in that sense, Wright could take some comfort in knowing that his Villanova squad won’t be its city’s only championship team to find a hole in its schedule where a White House visit would normally be.
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