Obama, Cameron, dissect NCAA game–or maybe the Republican field

Olivier Knox

President Barack Obama, an avid basketball fan and frequent player, treated visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron to his first-ever basketball game on Tuesday during a brief election-year road trip to the battleground state of Ohio.

Obama and Cameron had hot dogs before settling in to watch Mississippi Valley State clash with Western Kentucky and fight to a 23-19 halftime lead that left the two leaders offering up analysis that sounded a little bit as though they were dissecting the hard-fought Republican presidential primary race.

"Both teams are shooting terribly," the president told CBS Sports interviewer Clark Kellogg. "It may be nerves. These are not teams that normally end up coming to the tournament. But you know, some of this is just going to be somebody getting a few open shots outside to open things up because it's real clogged in the middle."

"It's pretty fast and furious. It's hard to follow sometimes exactly who's done what wrong," added Cameron, whose wife Samantha stayed in Washington with First Lady Michelle Obama while he and the president traveled to Dayton.

The president and prime minister, celebrating the "special relationship" between the United States and Britain, announced new cooperation in the fields of NCAA bracketology and traditional English sports.

"He's going to help me fill out my bracket," said Cameron.

"He's going to teach me cricket," Obama said. "Because I don't understand what's going on with that cricket thing."

The president, who carried Ohio in 2008 and aims to do so again in November, played down the electoral significance of his choice of destinations.

"Sometimes when we have foreign visitors, they're only visiting the coasts — they go to New York, they go to Washington, they go to Los Angeles," he said in the exchange, which was broadcast by truTV.

Quizzed by Kellogg on Harvard's presence in the NCAA tournament, Obama said it had generated "terrific" excitement but added "how far they can go is another question."

Cameron said he saw similarities between basketball and the sport America calls soccer and the rest of the world calls football — "how you have to mark people, how you have to be quick on the break, how you have to try and play as a team."

And the prime minister put in a plug for the 2012 Olympics in London.

"We're going to be rolling out the red carpet to the whole world. Everything's on time, on budget. All the stadia are built, everything's ready to go. We're just ready to welcome a lot of people to London," he said.

Obama's unusual invitation "is reflective of the kind of relationship that we have with the United Kingdom," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. "I don't think it's a surprise to anyone that this administration wants to continue to build on that very longstanding, very special relationship."

Asked whether Obama had forgiven the British for burning the White House during the War of 1812, Carney quipped: "Almost."

The trip was a break in the typically stuffy routine of international diplomacy, but was unlikely to outdo one of the most memorable presidential road-trips in recent years: President George W. Bush's June 2006 visit to Elvis Presley's Graceland estate with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, an Elvis super-fan. The two shared a laugh in the Jungle Room.