Seven months after the University of South Carolina won the women's NCAA basketball tournament, the national champions were extended an invitation to meet President Donald Trump at the White House. The invitation was for Friday, Nov. 17, when President Trump is scheduled to meet with multiple collegiate championship teams. However, the South Carolina women's basketball team declined the White House invitation, with head coach Dawn Staley providing a statement as to why.
"We did hear from the White House about attending tomorrow's event," the USC women's basketball team head coach's statement read, "but we will not be able to attend. As I've been saying since our practices for this season started, all of our focus is on the season ahead. The only invitation we are thinking about is to the 2018 NCAA Tournament."
The decision from the South Carolina Gamecocks to decline the White House invitation represents a reversal from Staley's initially stated position on visiting Washington D.C. In April, after the team won the NCAA Tournament, the head coach had affirmatively answered the question of whether the Gamecocks would attend a ceremony at the White House, which is customary for many champions of major American sports.
"Yeah, I'm going to the White House," Staley said, after defeating Mississippi State in the tournament final. "It's what it stands for. It's what national champions do. We'll go to the White House."
At the time, the subject of whether athletes would attend the White House was in question, with several players from the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots having declined a White House invitation for a visit that took place later in April.
One of Staley's players, however, expressed excitement at the prospect of visiting the White House.
"I've never really been to the White House," A'ja Wilson, the team's leading scorer in the tournament final, said in April. "It should be exciting to go with this group of girls. We're going to have fun, so I'm excited. Honestly, I'm just going to go and enjoy the moment, just take it all in. This is probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so why not enjoy it?"
Near the end of September, however, Staley said the team hadn't received any such invite from the West Wing.
"We haven't gotten an invitation yet and that in itself speaks volumes," Staley told the Associated Press. "We won before those other teams won their championships. I don't know what else has to happen."
Another quote from Staley within the September AP interview seemed to foreshadow her team's present day decline of the White House invitation. During the interview, Staley said "some things" had "transpired over the last few months. I haven't talked to anyone about it. I got bigger fish to fry than worry about an invitation."
Now that the invitation has finally come, the team has declined an opportunity to visit President Trump, with Staley's statement pointing to a prioritization of the team's current season, which began last Friday, Nov. 10.
Had the Gamecocks accepted the White House invitation, the Friday event would not have conflicted with any scheduled game. The team did, however, play intrastate rival Clemson on Thursday night. South Carolina's next scheduled game is set for Sunday, at home against Wofford.
The Gamecocks aren't the first championship team to decline an inviration to visit Trump's White House. Their male counterparts, the University of North Carolina's men's basketball team, won't be visiting either, after failing to find a date that "worked for both parties," as a team spokesman said.
The NBA Champion Golden State Warriors saw their invitation "withdrawn" by President Trump, who noted that star player Stephen Curry was "hesitating." Trump's decision prompted a response from fellow NBA star LeBron James, who called the president a "bum."
The collegiate teams that did accept the White House's invitation this week will attend a reception at the executive mansion, according to ESPN.