When the everyday college basketball fan witnesses his school win the NCAA championship, it’s usually satisfying enough in itself. However, when a $5,000 windfall is added to the bragging rights, there’s an entirely different level of excitement.
During a visit to the Hard Rock Hotel’s sportsbook late last year, a group consisting of 12 seniors and alums from the University of Connecticut each placed $100 on their Huskies to win it all. At 50-to-1 odds, the wagers absolutely fit into the category of long shots. But then came March Madness, and underdog UConn kept winning … and winning … and winning. And when they defeated the Kentucky Wildcats in the April 7 championship game, the Huskies had secured the school’s fourth national title, and the dozen students—Tom Andreoli, Patrick Charmel, Paul Delvecchio, Chris Demattie, Marc Demattie Dave Faenza, Ferid “Frank” Feratovic, Harrison Fuchs, John Mitkevicius, Michael Price, Dan Stewart and Andrew Zielinski—had taken the Hard Rock for a combined $60,000.
With the exception of Demattie, the entire group returned to the Hard Rock on May 24 to collect their winnings.
“We didn’t make the tournament [in 2013], but we saw the team this year with the experience we had, and we figured why not?” Zielinksi said. “We had some money laying around, so we decided to put in a hundred each. We had confidence.”
That confidence was fueled not only by UConn’s talented roster, led by star guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, but by simple, old-fashioned school spirit.
“It was UConn pride all the way,” Faenza said.
While the final result paid off, there were some nervous moments as UConn won one close game after another to advance in the three-week tournament. “It was hard not to think about the money while watching,” Price said.
Zielinski, however, insists the wager wasn’t the first thing on his mind. “I was in the basketball stadium watching the [championship game], and I actually had forgotten about the money for a while,” he said. “I realized once I started getting texts from these guys that we won a whole bunch.”
After cashing out, the friends—some of whom completed their degrees in 2013, the rest of whom graduated this month—had lunch at the Hard Rock’s Pink Taco, toasting their success with a shot of tequila as they officially kicked off a 72-hour Memorial Day weekend vacation. “It’s hard to tell how much money we’ll be going back with,” Faenza said. “We’re just here to have fun and enjoy the moment.”
“Wherever we go,” Price said, “is probably going to be pretty expensive.”
However, there was one thing they definitely planned on doing before heading home: doubling down on their alma mater for next year.
“Let’s just say we’re all putting the bet back in again,” Faenza said, as the rest of the group claimed, “See you next year!”