The first Borgata $10,000 Guaranteed Basketball Free Throw Tournament is in the books and it can be summed up in one simple word—swish.
Well, actually, a lot of the 1,022 contestants that turned out for the inaugural event on March 21 went the bank-shot route, but the winner, Al Callejas, 37 of Archbald, PA definitely went for the swish as he won first prize and $10,220.
Callejas told the Scranton Times Tribune that he got a little nervous watching competitors take advantage of the springy backboards used for the contest in Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa’s Signature room.
“It was the greatest strategy in the world,” Callejas said. “If you hit it square, the backboard falls back and ball drops right through. It started playing mind games with you. You wonder if you should be banking them.”
Instead, he stuck with the way his basketball coach father Al had taught him.
“He always said if you don’t hit the rim it will go in,” Callejas said.
The other key to winning was endurance as Borgata’s first-ever skill-based contest—the first anywhere really—proved a remarkable success with a turnout large enough to bump the $10,000 guaranteed prize pool to $20,000.
For Callejas, a day of foul shots came down to one last shot—the difference between an outright win and a tie with Wayne Nelson, local Cedar Creek High School boys basketball coach and Smithville resident.
He made it.
“I felt so locked in, I didn’t hear anybody,” Callejas said. “I was down to my last ball, I had nine seconds left on clock. I’m thinking this shot is worth $10,000. Once it left my hand I knew it was going in. I said, ‘Got it,’ halfway there.”
“I never win,” Callejas, now a first grade teacher, but a former standout player in high school at the University of Scranton told local media. “This is the perfect setting for me.”
Nelson won $6,132 for second and two other shooters won $2,044 for third and fourth place.
For Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, the free throw contest counts as a pretty successful experiment. The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement approved skill-based games late last year and Borgata ran with it.
Lines of players snaked through the casino as the contest brought out former players, coaches and rec league stars—including pro shooting coach Dave Hopla.
@al_callejas13 thanks 4 the kind words CHAMP. Continued success + best swishes
— Dave Hopla (@davehopla) March 23, 2015
But in the end it was Callejas who took home the prize.
And then there were two. Al Callejas and Wayne Nelson (@relentless_basketball_) went head-to-head in a suspenseful final round of Atlantic City's first Free Throw Basketball Tournament. Callejas became the champion after making 14 out of 15 baskets. He and his wife Maribeth (@Mair427) get to celebrate his big win of $10,220! And while Nelson would've loved to win, he happily took home $6,132 for second place. #BorgataBball #Borgata #basketball #tournament #atlanticcity #doac #freethrow
So what will be Borgata’s next skill-based offering?
Stay tuned for an announcement and be sure of one thing. It’s going to be exciting! CLICK HERE to view more photos from the event.