Trump welcomes college sports champions to the White House

Dawn Staley
FILE - In this Oct. 19, 2017, file photo, South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley answers questions during the Southeastern Conference women's NCAA college basketball media day in Nashville, Tenn. President Donald Trump is set to host collegiate sports championship teams at the White House on Friday, Nov. 17, but the South Carolina women's basketball team will not be attending after declining an invitation. "We did hear from the White House about attending tomorrow's event, but we will not be able to attend," coach Staley said in a statement Thursday night. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Indoors and out, the White House was overrun with school spirit Friday as President Donald Trump welcomed college sports champions and declared them “great athletes.” Too many of them to fit in one room, the teams took up positions all around the mansion for separate photo ops with the president.

In all, 18 NCAA teams attended the event at the White House; South Carolina’s women’s basketball team declined the invitation.

Teams including the Texas A&M women’s equestrian team, Pennsylvania State University’s women’s rugby team, and the University of Washington’s women’s rowing team gathered around the White House grounds to be recognized for their championships.

Trump posed for photos with the players throughout the Rose Garden, South Lawn and inside the White House and then sent them off to the Oval Office for a quick tour. At one point, the president playfully got into a wrestling pose with members of the Penn State men’s team. Chatting with the Ohio State men’s volleyball team, he popped a colorful volleyball into the air.

When Trump spotted Maryland lacrosse attacker Dylan Maltz wearing a blue Trump ’16 tie, he pumped his hand and brought him to the front of the team’s riser near the South Lawn. “Look at that, folks,” Trump said, holding up the tie to journalists.

In the Red Room of the White House, the NRA-backed Trump greeted the West Virginia’s co-ed rifle team by saying, “We saved the Second Amendment!” Then he asked, “So who is the best shot?” At another point, joined by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Trump bowed his head in prayer along with members of the Oklahoma softball team.

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said after her team won the NCAA title in April that it would go to the White House if invited because “it’s what it stands for. It’s what national champions do.” She told The Associated Press in late September that she hadn’t received an invite and “that spoke volumes.”

In a statement Thursday night, Staley said the team did end up hearing from the White House but chose not to attend.

“As I’ve been saying since our practices for this season started, all of our focus is on the season ahead,” she said. “The only invitation we are thinking about is to the 2018 NCAA Tournament.”

Trump sparred with professional athletes earlier this year when NBA star Stephen Curry said his championship-winning Golden State Warriors didn’t wish to meet with Trump. The feud erupted as Trump was lambasting NFL athletes for kneeling in protest during the national anthem.

North Carolina’s men’s basketball team said earlier this year it could not agree on a date for a visit. Trump hosted the Air Force Academy football team at the White House for a Commander-in-Chief’s trophy ceremony in May and the champion Clemson Tigers football team in June.

Other champion schools at the White House on Friday included: the University of Oklahoma’s men’s golf, women’s and men’s gymnastics, the University of Maryland women’s lacrosse, the University of Virginia’s men’s tennis, Arizona State University women’s triathlon, University of Florida baseball, McKendree University’s women’s bowling, Texas A&M men’s indoor track and field, and University of Utah skiing.

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AP Basketball Writer Doug Feinberg contributed to this story.

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On Twitter follow Ken Thomas at @KThomasDC.