MERIDEN — Corey Johnson chose one of the more unlikely NCAA Basketball Tournament championship games when he selected the University of Connecticut to square off with the University of Kentucky. While his hopes for a perfect tournament bracket were dashed weeks ago, Johnson realized he could still be in line for a large payday if his selection for tournament champion — UConn — ended up winning it all.
Johnson, a 28-year-old Meriden native, filled out the Quicken Loans Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge on Yahoo Sports’ website, which will pay out $100,000 to each of the top 20 best brackets. As of Monday afternoon, heading into the championship game, Johnson sat in fourth place and was guaranteed he would remain in the top 20 if UConn won.
But there was one problem: Johnson technically didn’t pick UConn.
“It was crazy at first because I didn’t know anything was good until I got to the Sweet 16, then the (Elite) Eight, then the Final Four where I realized I had three of the final four teams,” said Johnson, who also correctly picked Wisconsin in his Final Four. “I thought ‘I’m in a good spot.’ ”
Johnson began skimming through other brackets before the Final Four matchups checking to see if he had a legitimate chance to win the $100,000 and quickly realized his chances were alive if UConn and Kentucky won, which they did. In talking with friends, however, Johnson realized something was wrong.
“I clicked on my bracket and it just doesn’t say there’s a winner,” Johnson said, explaining what went wrong. “I had clicked on UConn and hit the save button ... I’ve done brackets before, so obviously I know you have to pick a winner. I just said ‘there’s no way.’ ”
Though the rest of the bracket saved properly, the final selection had not been saved. Also not filled out was a tie breaker where Johnson would have to guess the final score of the game.
Calls to Yahoo and Quicken Loans representatives were not returned Monday afternoon.
While the UConn-Kentucky final was unconventional, Johnson said he picked the seventh-seeded UConn because it’s his favorite team. Wanting to stand out from other brackets and choose another “Cinderella story,” he selected a talented, but young Kentucky team, which was an eighth seed. Johnson added that he had done extensive research while making selections and was adamant about not “just being lucky” like many assumed.
On the website, Johnson’s bracket, titled “Corey’s Champion Bracket,” shows the UConn-Kentucky matchup, but the national champion spot is blank. In addition to correctly picking three out of the final four teams, Johnson successfully picked seven of the final eight teams and 11 of the Sweet 16 teams.
As the day went by Monday, media outlets from around the country began learning about Johnson’s situation and contacting him. The sports news website Deadspin, USA Today and ABC News were just a few to tell his story. While he stood in the driveway of his brother’s house giving an interview Monday afternoon, a friend and Johnson’s brother would shout over, letting him know the story had just popped up on another website.
“It’s depressing. It sucks ... you’re just alone in the world,” Johnson said. “The first thing I did after I got out of school today, I went over and got a hug from my mom.”
His phone was receiving messages and phone calls throughout the day and, if UConn was successful in Monday night’s championship game, Johnson said he knew the teasing from friends would only increase.
It hurts Johnson just to talk about what he would have done with the $100,000 if he had won, but paying off tuition at Porter and Chester Institute — where he studies heating, ventilation and air conditioning — would have topped the list. After that, Johnson talked about paying off debt and looking to put a down payment on a house.
Johnson is still proud of his bracket and admitted he would cheer for his favorite team either way.
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