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March Madness at the White House?

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POSTED March 31, 2009 5:07 a.m.
Ty Lawson had to be stoked that our 44th U.S. President knew him by name.

The 21-year-old point guard for the University of North Carolina sat out the first-round of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament with a jammed right toe. His injury concerned many filling out their March Madness pools, including Barack Obama.

The President made an under-the-radar campaign promise to ESPN that, if elected, he would reveal his tournament bracket picks on national television. True to his word, he did just that, in turn, joining millions of round-ball enthusiasts including yours truly.

Incidentally, I shared the same pick with Obama in taking North Carolina to reach next Monday’s finals in Detroit.

The President predicted the Tarheels to capture the national championship by defeating Louisville. But there’s one big problem: The Cardinals lost to Michigan State this past weekend in the Elite Eight game.

Obama also chose Memphis and Duke in his Final Four.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been part of a local group involved in a March Madness pool. The entry fee here is quite modest and requires some knowledge of today’s college hoops coupled with possible matchups. But as we know that’s not always the case as one person or maybe more will make the right predictions based simply on dumb luck.

In Las Vegas, March Madness is second only to the Super Bowl in attracting flocks of bettors to the casinos. In some of the sports books, fans will hang out overnight just to secure seats for the first-round games.

Nevada is one of the few states that allow wagering on such events. As an option, we’ve found Reno more to our liking (it’s within reasonable driving distance from the central valley, affordable accommodations, great meal deals, and easy to get around by walking).

Tim Douglas, a longtime friend and a former newsroom colleague, has been intrigued with the March Madness since the mid-1990s. He tried Vegas for a few of those years, but, after moving to Sacramento from Fresno, discovered the same sort of college hoop excitement at the Cal-Neva Hotel and Casino in Reno.

About four years ago, I received an invitation from Tim to witness this crazy scene at the sports book. Since then, I’ve been hooked.

As for my brackets, I had 44 correct picks out of the field of 66 at last count. I’m sure no one predicted Villanova to make it to the Final Four.

My picks were North Carolina, Michigan State, Florida State and Memphis. I think many in our “Manteca Mania” group had Connecticut and North Carolina.

For some unknown reasons, I took Michigan State to beat the Tarheels in the title game. Actually, I have the Spartans winning it all based on the hidden home-court advantage (East Lansing is only 90 miles away from Detroit).

My other Final Four picks were Florida State and Memphis

Obama, meanwhile, is the first U.S. President to publicly fill out an NCAA basketball pool.

In 1910, William Howard Taft threw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Major League Baseball game, thus, starting a longstanding ritual among those holding the highest office in the land.

Could it be we’re witnessing the beginning of a March Madness tradition to the White House?
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