As the Big East Tournament was getting ready to kickoff, I took my annual pilgrimage to Harlem offices of former President Bill Clinton (SFS '68). My former boss was gracious enough to make time for me to answer a few Casual questions about Georgetown and college basketball. As we finished and I was leaving, I heard the former President say in a near whisper and to no one in particular, "I don't often read the blogs, but when I do it's always Casual, Casual Hoya. Because I'm the most interesting and casual man in the world."
Well all of that is made up except for the gracious part of the former President making time to answer a few questions for the blog. I can tell you from experience, the man knows a lot about college basketball. My first real memory of working for him was standing in a holding room watching Georgetown get beaten by the cheating likes of Marcus Camby, John Calipari and UMass. I got to see the power of the Presidency that day. We held up half of a city because the two of us wanted to see how the game ended. Many a Saturday afternoon was spent catching glimpses of games between the very real pressures of being President.
So below are my casual questions and some Presidential answers.
As a New Yorker, how does the Big East tournament stack up as sporting event in terms of excitement and quality?
The Big East Tournament is the best and most exciting college basketball in the country. All the teams can win, all the teams are going to the NCAA tournament, and the officials let them play Big East basketball giving the lower seeds a chance.
Even as president, you always found time to follow college basketball. What's special about the college game that keeps you interested?
College basketball - both the men's and women's game - showcases both the abilities of individual players and the power and spirit of teamwork all season long. Pro-basketball has a higher percentage of gifted athletes, but isn't as interesting to watch until the playoffs.
I know you spent some time with John Thompson Jr. when you were in the White House. What were your impressions of him as both a coach and leader in the African American community?
Coach Thompson is a smart, charismatic, commanding leader who wanted his players to win every game and to win in life after basketball. Perhaps his most impressive success is the percentage of his men who completed their degree.
Was basketball a big deal on campus when you were at Georgetown?
Yes, but we never made the NCAA and went to the NIT only once. Still, I went to lots of games and the spirit was there.
Georgetown's best teams were undoubtedly the Patrick Ewing led teams. Nolan Richardson also had some great teams at Arkansas. Who would have won that match up?
I don't know. Their styles of play were so different. I loved the 1994 Razorbacks National Championship team with its run and gun "40 minutes of hell." The Razorbacks were so deep that year and played almost everyone in every game. Corliss Williamson was the SEC Player of the Year but only averaged about 27 minutes per game. Coach Thompson's teams with Patrick Ewing played quintessential Big East basketball, physical, strong defense, low-scoring games often intimidating their opponents even before the game started. I'm not sure which team would win, but I'd love to have watched.
Clinton Global Initiative University ("CGI U") this year falls on Final Four weekend. Why is it important for you to stay engaged with college students and what can we expect from CGI U this year?
I love working with college students because they have such incredible ideas and they're so excited about getting in the trenches and getting the work done. About 1,000 students attend CGI University. They all have to apply to attend, and in their applications they make commitments that describe what they're going to do to make the world a better place. This year, the event's program is focused on very topical issues. We worked with MTV to develop a panel on the affordability of higher education. We also have a session that will examine how to increase innovation on campus and beyond, another on using social media as an organizing tool, and another on the bullying of gays and lesbians on college campuses. So I think it will be a great opportunity to meet some tremendously engaged students and learn about innovative work they're doing in a wide variety of areas. But I'll have to watch the Final Four on TV!
You got to see the Hoyas play at the Verizon Center against Syracuse. What were your impressions of the team this year? How far can they go this year?
Georgetown stumbled into the post-season largely because of injuries, but they've showed the ability to string wins together because they run a smart, efficient offense, take care of the basketball, and force teams to take difficult shots. I still think they can go deep in the NCAA Tournament, especially once they get Mr. Wright back!