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Fan misses $1 million shot -- and everything else

Beth Bragg
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News

In what may be his swan song as the man behind the Great Alaska Shootout's $1 million shot, Vito Ungaro didn't give away a thing Saturday night.

Not that he didn't try.

Todd Miller of Eagle River was 0 for 16 in his attempts to win prizes ranging from $1 million to a year's worth of Coke by sinking a basket in the annual halftime promotion during Saturday's championship game.

First, Miller's 75-foot attempt at a $1 million payoff fell short.

Then, with a 2007 Jeep Cherokee worth $17,000 from Vito's Auto Sales at stake, he missed three attempts from halfcourt. The first two were on target but short; the third banged off the backboard.

Miller moved to the 3-point line after that and missed 10 straight shots -- each time losing a prize. A $1,000 gift certificate from promotion co-sponsor Brown's Electric? Airball. Dinner for two at Guido's once a month for a year? Front of the rim. A private party at the Woodshed? A carom off the backboard.

Then Miller went to the free throw for another high-stakes opportunity -- a used Ford Focus worth $7,000. Three shots, three misses.

With time running out before the game resumed, Ungaro replaced Miller with 13-year-old Ross Boling, who said he's about a 95-percent foul shooter. If he could hit a free throw, Miller would get the Ford Focus. But Boling missed both of his shots.

It was the first time in the 14-year history of the promotion that no prize was awarded. No one has ever collected the $1 million, but the shooter has always gone home with something, often a used car.

"I tried," Ungaro said.

Ungaro said this might be the last year he sponsors the promotion, which is always a crowd pleaser.

Returning, as a ref

Newton Chelette first made a trip to the Great Alaska Shootout in 1980, as an assistant coach with McNeese State. This year, he made his second trip to the tournament, as a referee.

Chelette, 60, said he is pretty sure he is the only man to coach and referee in the tournament, and he was happy to get a chance to revisit an event that holds special memories from the early days of his lifetime in basketball.

His favorite memory from 30 years ago was seeing Joe Dumars, of Detroit Pistons fame, set the tournament scoring record. Chelette said he played a big role in recruiting Dumars to McNeese State and worked closely with him in practice. The record has since been broken numerous times, and is currently held by Klay Thompson of Washington State, who scored 43 points in 2009.

Chelette's relationship with Dumars became so close Dumars invited Chelette to be one of a handful of special guests at his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.

Chelette has coached basketball for 32 years and officiated for 25 years. He lives in Lancaster, Calif., where he coaches at Antelope Valley Community College and referees for the Big West, Mountain West and Western Athletic Conferences.

"Coaching was my passion," he said. "But officiating was my obsession."

Topical cheer

Shouted from the Sullivan Arena stands during Saturday's UAA game, by a fan who thought Ball State was guarding one of the Seawolves a little too closely: "Hey ref! They're TSA-ing him!"

Reporter Jeremy Peters contributed to this story.


By BETH BRAGG
bbragg@adn.com