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Hitting Baskets From Half Court Is Easier Than Collecting Payoff

A student made two long shots last year at an O.C. grad-night contest but had to hire a lawyer to negotiate a settlement for his prize.

June 10, 2003|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

The odds were certainly against Kerem Ozguz, then an 18-year-old high school senior who stood to make $25,000 if he could make two of three basketball shots during last year's graduation festivities.

He swished one, and then another, of the half-court shots during the Aliso Niguel High School Grad Nite. Ozguz was swarmed by classmates as the second shot barely rippled the net.

But when he went to collect his money, the company that guaranteed the payout allegedly backed out of the deal.

Ozguz, who is now a UC San Diego freshman studying electrical engineering, hired an attorney after several months of waiting for his winnings and ended up with a bit more than $17,000 after lawyer fees -- money he said he's using to pay rent for an off-campus apartment and play the stock market.

The grad-night committee for the high school in Aliso Viejo, meanwhile, filed suit last week against the company that offered the payout, alleging neglect, misrepresentation and breach of contract. The suit seeks an unspecified amount in damages.

Craig Meyers, who operates the Georgia-based company that committee members say guaranteed the $25,000, conceded that Ozguz did not get the intended payoff but rather a negotiated settlement.

He denied the accusations in the lawsuit. "They can say whatever they want," Meyers said.

According to the lawsuit, the committee paid $600 to the company for a bond to secure a possible payout should anyone make the shots during last year's grad-night festivities.

However, International Golf Management LLC, which advertises online that it bonds hole-in-one contests, pocketed the $600 and never got around to securing the bond, according to the lawsuit.

The school's grad-night coordinator, Jill Cadman, a parent volunteer on last year's committee, said she had used the company for a grad-night putting contest. But none of the students won, so there was no payout.

"We'll never do this again," Cadman said.

Committee officials said they were careful to follow the rules of the contest, including videotaping each high school senior as he or she took turns arching the ball toward the basket.

Ozguz, who said he loves playing pickup games and allowed that he has a good outside jumper, said he and a few of his friends entered the contest on a lark.

"I didn't practice or anything," he said. "We just did it as something to do."

He said the video shows that after he sank the second basket, onlookers rushed up and congratulated him.

"It was pretty spectacular making one shot, and then when I made two, it was great," he said.

With time, however, the fun subsided. Ozguz said he waited several months before getting frustrated and turning to a lawyer. The attorney, Ozguz said, eventually negotiated a $22,500 payment, but 20% of his winnings went to the lawyer.

Now 19 and finishing finals at UCSD, Ozguz said he used the money to pay rent for an off campus apartment near the La Jolla campus. Rather than party or buy a new car, he invested the rest in the stock market, he said.

"I got an advisor before I entered the market and put about $10,000 in stocks," he said. He said he has been lucky in a down market, making about $2,000 so far by investing in medical suppliers, medical billings and high-tech stocks.

But he said he's still miffed about how his greatest basketball moment was overshadowed by the tussle over collecting his winnings.

Though he was a 4.0 student in high school, Ozguz said he wasn't offered any scholarships and saw the twin basketball shots as a financial salvation, of sorts.

"The rent around the campus is very high," he said. "I did eventually get some money, but not until I had to get my own attorney."

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