WASHINGTON - The Maryland Terrapins have been inundated with congratulations since winning the university's first NCAA men's basketball championship seven weeks ago, yet nothing could top the salute they relished yesterday.
After greeting them as "the mighty Terps of Maryland" during a 10-minute ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, President Bush gave his thumbs-up to college basketball's kings.
The president also welcomed four collegiate champions, including the undefeated Connecticut women's basketball squad and the men's and women's hockey teams from the University of Minnesota.
Bush did not hide the fact that the Terps have fans in his circle: "You guys need to know that there's a lot of people that were stepping a little lighter, in my family as well as who work in this compound. When you won, it was a great feat, in an unbelievably tough field."
Addressing all four teams with a message that touched on the national consciousness in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush added: "You showed some things that I think are important in this country, particularly at this time. When you serve something greater than yourself, called `a team,' you can achieve great things."
Before shaking hands with each member of the Maryland team and coaching staff, Bush had his photograph taken with seniors Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter. Dixon presented the president with a No. 1 Terps jersey marked "Bush." Shortly after, the Marine Corps band played the Maryland fight song.
"I told [the president] to make sure he wore that jersey every May 21. He said he would," Dixon said.
"I'd like to make this a regular visit," said coach Gary Williams.