DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The first appearance for Howard University in the NCAA Tournament since 1992 included a visit by one of the school's most prominent alums.
Vice President Kamala Harris watched Howard's 96-68 first-round loss to Kansas from a suite at Wells Fargo Arena on Thursday afternoon and met with the team afterward.
As supporters in the hallway chanted “H-U, you know!” players trickled into the locker room. Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, walked in a few minutes later.
“You played hard. You played to the very last second. You made all us Bisons proud,” Harris said, according to the press pool account of her address of the players. "You are smart. You are disciplined. You put everything you had into the game. You guys did not stop, and that is so inspiring. So you keep playing with chin up and shoulders back because you showed the world who Bison are.”
Harris, who graduated in 1986 from the historically Black university in the nation's capital, said she has heard alumni all over the world talking about their pride in the team.
“So I know you may not be feeling great right now, OK, but know who you are,” Harris said. “You are excellence. You are hard work. You are powerful, and you are winners."
The players were subdued after the end of their season but still able to recognize the significance of meeting Harris.
“It’s amazing to know we have people of such power that are affiliated with us and supporting us at the same time,” freshman forward Shy Odom said.
When Harris was shown on the video board during the game, the boos — Kansas and Iowa are Republican-leaning states, after all — outweighed the applause.
Wearing their Black History Month jerseys with green trim and a red script “The Mecca” on the front — in reference to Howard’s nickname as the country’s most prominent historically Black university — the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion Bison took the court with plenty of confidence.
“I just love how they have grown as people and have become better men over the course of this season,” coach Kenny Blakeney said. “That’s a victory no one can take away from us. I’m thrilled that we were able to represent Howard University in a classy way that honored so many people before us.”
This was just the third NCAA Tournament appearance in program history for Howard.
“We have had a lot of games on national TV," Blakeney said, "but certainly being in the NCAA Tournament there are more eyes and visibility on you, which is amazing because we have a chance to talk about our university as one of the greatest on the face of this planet.”