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NJBIZ Brackets bonus: Alums across N.J. recall college days as tournament begins

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Cathy Caputo is a Seattle native, so she's used to cold weather. That must be how she was able to camp out for days in the snow just to get tickets to see the Gonzaga Bulldogs while attending the university in Spokane.

Gonzaga students have a history of setting up tents and camping out for days in order to get prime seats for basketball games, where only 1,200 seats are available for the school's 4,800 students.

"It was awesome," said the 2011 graduate. "The players would come out and support us and the cafeteria would bake extra cookies for us. It was a worthwhile experience, and I'm proud to say I did it."

Representing her school in NJBIZ Brackets may not provide quite the same thrill, but she doesn't have to brave the weather and cold temperatures to do it, either. The most exciting part of the tournament, which pits Garden State executives against one another as they root on their almae maters, gets under way this afternoon.

Caputo, an account manager for America Chung Nam, a Jersey City-based paper mill and recycling company, said her longest — and coldest — wait began at 5 p.m. on a Saturday, and ended when the game took place on Thursday.

"It was zero degrees with storm warnings," she said. "But it was a big rivalry my freshman year with Wazoo (Washington State University), so it didn't matter to us. We had six people in the tent and we rotated going to class."

While studying at Gonzaga's School of Business Administration, Caputo was on the track and cross-country teams, and was a student manager in the cafeteria. She was busy, needless to say, but tried to be at the games every chance she could.

"The whole school really rallies around the basketball team," she said. "It's a community and a family. Basketball brings everyone together at Gonzaga."

Though she will be at work for today's game against the Southern University Jaguars, Caputo said she expects an easy win for her team, which is seeded No. 1 in the Western region, and she plans to watch them play Saturday night with a New York City alumni chapter, where more than 50 people in Bulldogs gear have been known to gather for the games.

"I yell at the TV a lot, and if they play really bad I have to walk out for a few minutes," she said. "But I always wish I was back there being a part of it." –Mary Ann Bourbeau

'I expect to win'

Caputo isn't the only top-seeded executive taking to the court today. Growing up in Kentucky, Daniel Flynn was one of 11 siblings — five of whom played or coached basketball in high school or college. When he was at the University of Louisville in 1975, the team made it to the Final Four, losing to UCLA on a missed free throw in double overtime.

Now, the attorney with Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith & Davis, in Woodbridge, is excited to be representing his team, ranked No. 1 in the Midwest, in NJBIZ Brackets.

"I come from a basketball family, and this is the big time of year, when we get to the NCAA tournament," he said. "We watch Louisville and the University of Kentucky, and we root for one or the other. Kentucky didn't make it this year, and that's unfortunate, but it's always fun to see how far Louisville will go."

What does he think will happen when Louisville plays North Carolina A&T tonight?

"I expect to win," he said. "I've been told that Louisville won't win the region, because it's the toughest region. I guess whoever's ranked number one has the biggest bullseye on their back, and anybody could have a good game and win. Whoever comes out of that region has to be a good basketball team, and playing very well."

Growing up in Lawrenceburg, Ky., Flynn said basketball "was the biggest sport. … In Kentucky, there is not that much in the way of professional sports, so high school and college sports were a big deal. I don't know where it started, but I can tell you it's there." He graduated from Louisville in 1977. –Beth Fitzgerald

Chemical reaction to Zips

When it comes to tradition, of this year's competitors, Terry Goss Kinzy, who graduated from the University of Akron, may stand out the most.

"I was a chemistry major there, and I had a scholarship from the Akron Rubber Group — which is part of the American Chemical Society — and I was always told that we were named the Zips because Zippy bounces like a rubber ball, and Akron was the original home of the rubber industry in the United States," Kinzy said. "They have a very strong tradition in chemistry, and I was fortunate to go there."

If you're looking for Kinzy, a professor at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, this week, you won't have to search very hard — when she's not tweeting about her Akron Zips, she's gathered with her grad students around a tournament bracket, comparing how far everyone's undergraduate program might go.

Despite being a busy researcher, educator and program director, Kinzy finds time to follow the Zips on Facebook, and said she and her husband closely follow both Big 10 and Akron sports.

"At the same time I'm keeping up on Twitter with the NIH (National Institutes of Health), I can keep up with my sports," Kinzy said. –Melinda Caliendo

Prepared to celebrate

It's not uncommon for Marc Teitelbaum to seek out fellow University of Pittsburgh alumni when it comes time to watch a football or basketball game. This weekend will be no different, provided the Panthers can get past Wichita State today in the Round of 64.

"We have a Pitt alum association here, so we'll try to do game watches so we can get some camaraderie, get some cheering going, get some excitement," said Teitelbaum, a human resources manager at Cushman & Wakefield's global headquarters in New York. "We're trying to grow it. The further we go, the more people who end up at the game watches."

Teitelbaum, who handles HR for a client in New Jersey, graduated in 1999 and is the son of two Pitt grads. The family may be in store for some drama with today's matchup between No. 8 and No. 9 seeds, scheduled for this afternoon, though the team has cleared the first round in six of the past seven years. He faces Hess' Cindy Farley, a Wichita State grad.

"Every year, it's always exciting," Teitelbaum said. "I'd always like to see us take it home, which has been somewhat difficult. Hopefully this year, we'll pull through." –Joshua Burd

A Big East pipeline

An interesting journey through the Big East has made attorney Christine Amalfe, of Gibbons P.C., the devoted Syracuse fan she is today.

"I went to Seton Hall as an undergrad, and I was a Pirates fan," Amalfe said. "Seton Hall played in the Big East, so when it came time for law school, I only applied to Big East schools, because I was such a rabid Big East basketball fan."

So she applied to the law schools of Syracuse, Seton Hall, Villanova and Georgetown, leading her to Syracuse, "and you cannot go to Syracuse and go to the Carrier Dome and be a fan of anyone other than Syracuse. So I became a crazy Syracuse fan. I still politely cheer for Seton Hall, but I'm really crazy for Syracuse." She graduated from the law school in 1985.

Amalfe said she grew up around the game: "My brother played basketball, and I was one of those gym rats who was dragged to all his games, and my kids play basketball. I really like basketball, I understand basketball."

Amalfe has no doubt that Syracuse will win its first game tonight against Montana, and will watch at home with her two sons, who are 11 and 16; her daughter is away at college. Her husband, Essex County Superior Court Judge Thomas Moore, is a Notre Dame alum who also will be rooting along for Syracuse with her.

"He is a big Notre Dame fan — and I'm a big Notre Dame fan, when they're not playing Syracuse," she said. –Beth Fitzgerald

Duck calls

Deborah Howlett, executive director of Amplification Project, in Newark, usually spends a few days in March doing nothing but watching the tournament, and she's looking forward to representing her University of Oregon Ducks when they play Oklahoma State today.

During her time at Oregon in the early '80s, Howlett played lacrosse, and was editor of the college newspaper. But she always made time to see the Ducks play in McArthur Court — the arena with three balconies built in 1926 that was known as "The Pit."

"It got really loud and when all the students were jumping up and down, the whole place would shake," she said. "It was a great environment to watch basketball games." Howlett and her friends would throw Frisbees from balcony to balcony as the players warmed up, and she always wore her Ducks hat and brought along her duck call.

"I don't get that out too often anymore," she said. "It's pretty obnoxious."

Howlett is proud that Oregon team won the first NCAA championship in 1939, beating Ohio State.

"Too bad that didn't continue," she said. –Mary Ann Bourbeau

Crimson tide rolls in

Bob Grady, who chairs the New Jersey State Investment Council, admitted that his alma mater is known more as an academic powerhouse than an athletic one, but Grady said he regularly attended Harvard University's basketball games.

"In those days, frankly, the hockey team in the winter time was probably better than the basketball team," he said. "Hockey sold out every game. Basketball was in the lower tier of the Ivy League."

In fact, Harvard's appearance in last year's tournament was its first March Madness appearance since 1946. Last year, the Crimson lost an opening round game to Vanderbilt. This year, the team is a No. 14 seed, playing No. 3 New Mexico, represented by the U.S. Army's Ed Lopez.

"New Mexico is very, very good," he said. "They won both the regular season and the conference tournament" in the Mountain West Conference.

Grady is in Trenton today for a 1 p.m. meeting of the State Investment Council. The Harvard/New Mexico game doesn't start until 9:50 p.m. He said he'll go to an informal dinner after the meeting and then watch the game from his hotel room.

Grady said he knows his team's a long shot, but he said a 14 seed beating a No. 3 is not unprecedented. That's why on his personal bracket, the Crimson advance; "that's not to say I voted for every 14 seed," he said. –Jared Kaltwasser

The Vegas lottery

When Vance Sible was at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, the men's basketball team played in the Las Vegas Convention Center, which only held 7,000 fans, despite the team's success and popularity.

A lucky group of 2,000 students, out of 10,000 total, who had won a lottery were able to purchase tickets to the Runnin' Rebels' home games, and Sible — now a sales executive at MagnaCare — was one of them.

"Demand was, like, 20,000 during their heyday," Sible said, who went to every game when he had the tickets.

The demand was so strong, he said, that casinos offered to buy lottery winners' tickets for much more than they were being sold for, but the excitement of coach Jerry Tarkanian's teams kept Sible in his seats at Rebels games.

"They were first team I'd ever seen do this, where they turn off all the lights and have the big spotlight shine … to announce their players,'" Sible said. "I thought 'How intimidating, for another college to come in here and have that done to them.' " –Melinda Caliendo

Success on tap

Just after Butler University made its first of back-to-back trips to the Final Four, Chris Ternet was approached by someone asking if his Bulldogs T-shirt was the product of getting on the bandwagon.

"I've been wearing this for 20 years, you just now noticed. That's the story of Butler — you can wear this gear, and it wouldn't register with anybody out here," Ternet said, adding that his alma mater is often confused for Butler High School, in northwestern New Jersey.

Ternet, a regional director of state affairs for Anheuser-Busch, has lived in New Jersey for eight years, and follows the Bulldogs as closely as possible, including attending two of the team's Atlantic 10 tournament games this past weekend in Brooklyn, N.Y. He'll be following today's game on his smartphone as he travels for business; "I'm hoping to be able to watch part of the game during lunch."

But that doesn't mean he's underestimating his opponent, Bucknell University, led by WML partners' Wes Lang.

"I don't think any Butler fan will take Bucknell lightly," Ternet said. "They're balanced and they have a go-to guy … but I like Butler's chances. They've never lost to a lower seed in the tournament." –Melinda Caliendo

Just missed the Magic

NJBIZ Brackets action in the field of 64 officially opens this afternoon, when Don Christensen, a Michigan native who is now a partner at Christensen Tamburri Communications, in Raritan, takes on Celgere's Chuck Garrett, a Valpraiso alum.

As a student, Christensen always went to football and basketball games at Michigan State University, and regrets having graduated shortly before Magic Johnson joined the Spartans.

"That was the biggest thing to happen at Michigan State," he said. "Although I did get to see Ralph Simpson play during his one year there" before being drafted by the NBA's Denver Rockets. "That was a fantastic year."

If the Spartans make it to the finals, he may join a group of Michigan alumni who gather at a sports bar in New York City to watch the game.

"I've done that a few times and it's a lot of fun," he said.

This afternoon, he'll be wearing his green-and-white sweatshirt and watching the Spartans face off against Valparaiso with his two sons, a 13-year-old who plays basketball on the freshman team at Bridgewater-Raritan High School and a 15-year-old who plays with the Amateur Athletic Union traveling team.

"I'm fairly confident Michigan State will put Valpo away," he said. "Michigan has a chance to go all the way, but Branden Dawson and Keith Appling have to play the games of their lives. They've been a little inconsistent." –Mary Ann Bourbeau

Follow NJBIZ Brackets online and on Twitter @njbizbrackets.

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