COLLEGE PARK — Roberto Nelson insists that he isn't losing focus. Oregon State's leading scorer says his concentration is solely on the men's basketball game the Beavers (1-1) will play on Sunday at Maryland (1-1).
But, as he prepared for the trip, it would have been hard to blame the senior guard if his mind drifted to the possibility of again meeting President Barack Obama and the first lady, to eating Thanksgiving dinner last season at the White House, to shooting hoops at the president's South Lawn court.
Oregon State has made a habit of traveling east for games —and meeting the first family. The team is coached by Craig Robinson, first lady Michelle Obama's brother.
According to the White House, the Obamas plan to attend the Terps-Oregon State game at Comcast Center, which begins at 6 p.m. Maryland is advising fans to arrive early because of extra security precautions.
In recent years, the Beavers have had games at Towson, Howard and George Washington. The team seems to appreciate the special perk that comes with the trips.
"It's amazing. Each time I go [to the White House], I find out something different," Nelson said. One year, he said he played video games with the Obama family.
The 6-foot-4 Nelson, who is averaging 30 points through the first two games of the season, said shooting baskets at the White House one year was particularly memorable.
"We were out there shooting jumpers and running our plays. He was out there," Nelson said of Obama. "I was trying to get him to shoot. I was trying to get into a contest and say, 'I beat the president.' He's extremely competitive."
Last year, Oregon State was unable to schedule a game in the region. The team flew to Washington anyway and volunteered at a local food bank before having Thanksgiving dinner at the White House.
The meal included "brine-soaked, thyme-roasted turkey with gravy, cornbread stuffing, oyster stuffing, macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and kale salad," according to the team website. "Dessert featured six different kinds of pie including apple, huckleberry, cherry, banana cream, pumpkin and sweet potato with honey-meringue topping."
Nelson said he told Obama last year that he had to pick the Beavers in his NCAA tournament bracket, to which the president replied: "You'd better make it to the tournament first." Oregon State didn't.
Maryland players may not get White House tours, but they were excited about Obama's expected presence in their home arena.
Said forward Evan Smotrycz: "It'll be cool."
Added guard Nick Faust (City): "I've never met him."
Notes: Faust said he expects the assignment of guarding Nelson. Faust usually guards opponents' best backcourt players. … Maryland has won 30 straight nonconference games at Comcast Center.