WASHINGTON - Jay Wright seemed to be pinching himself as he stood just a few feet away from President Obama during the president's remarks welcoming Wright and the 2016 Villanova national championship basketball team to the White House on Tuesday.
"Mr. President, after the championship we had a big press conference, but nothing as big as this," Wright said when it came time for him to speak. "This is big-time."
"There's a lot of cameras around here," observed Obama, who initially introduced Wright as "the best-dressed man in college basketball . . . the George Clooney of coaches."
Villanova faithful, which the president said included people "from both sides of the aisle in Congress," were packed into the East Room for the ceremony that lasted about 15 minutes. It featured Wright, his players, his assistant coaches, support staff, athletic director Mark Jackson and school president the Rev. Peter Donohue.
The team presented Obama with two Villanova jerseys - one blue, one white - with his name on the back and the number 44 on the front. (Obama is the 44th president.) Wright said the style of jerseys was worn during the Wildcats' trip to Pearl Harbor for their Dec. 7 game against Oklahoma.
The president said Villanova "treated us to as memorable a run and as memorable a championship game as I can remember."
"These Wildcats were about more than just one moment or one shot," he said. "They had unbelievable defense. They had great clutch-shooting [and] a senior class that won more game than any group in Wildcats history. They had a stable of talented players who were as happy hitting the deck for a loose ball as they were cutting down the nets."
Obama noted how the Wildcats "bounced back from disappointing tournaments," referring to the team's back-to-back second-round exits from the 2014 and 2015 NCAAs, to make their run this year. He called the championship game against North Carolina "maybe the best title game of all time."
After "an unbelievable double-clutch circus shot" by the Tar Heels' Marcus Paige that tied the score with 4.7 seconds left, 'Nova's Kris Jenkins "shot the team into basketball lore," he said.
Obama then turned around and told Jenkins, "That was a good shot. It was like Christian Laettner good. [TNT commentator] Charles Barkley jumped out of his seat, which he doesn't do very often these days."
Wright said when Obama first met Jenkins, he said, "What's up, Big Shot?" Then the president called Jenkins "Big Smoove" at the ceremony.
"So he called me Big Shot and Big Smoove - take your pick," Jenkins said later.
Obama also acknowledged Josh Hart, Villanova's leading scorer, who graduated from Sidwell Friends School in Washington, the same school attended by the president's older daughter, Malia.
"My daughter will be graduating from there next week, which makes me cry when I talk about it, so I'm not going to talk about it," he said. "But it was good to see a Sidwell kid do well."
As almost everyone does, the president struggled with the surname of Wildcats co-captain Ryan Arcidiacono, calling him arch-ee-dee-ahh-CONE-oh instead of arch-ee-dee-AHH-con-oh.
"I just sped through that in case I didn't say it right," Obama said. "Barack Obama is tough, but Arcidiacono, man, that's a lot of vowels in there, so we're just going to call him Arch."
After the ceremony, Arcidiacono called the day "a surreal experience."
"It's not every day you get to shake hands with the president," he said. "It's something I'll always remember. Watching him speak in person, that's pretty unique. We couldn't have had a better script for me and our team, and to top it off with a trip to the White House is unbelievable."
"This was an amazing day for us," Wright said. "President Obama came in and addressed the team and knew a lot about the team. We presented him not only the jersey but a picture of him shooting a jump shot that mirrored Kris Jenkins' jump shot.
"We've got a lot of respect for him as a great leader and a great man, but also he's a baller, too. He can play ball. He was very cool."