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Free tuition? A new car? Nope, just 12 medium pizzas – and 15 minutes of fame

When are 12 pizzas worth more than a new car?

When they land you on ESPN's "SportsCenter" and they launch you into social media stardom.

Before Tuesday's men's basketball game between the University at Buffalo and the University of Akron, Kyle Hughes was best known as a vocal leader of UB's rabid "True Blue" student section.

But when the UB senior made a half-court shot that earned him the free pizzas, his exuberant reaction after winning the modest prize grabbed the attention of ESPN and Twitter.

"SportsCenter" anchors Scott Van Pelt and Steve Levy couldn't believe how excited Hughes got over winning 12 medium pizzas, and a video of the segment posted to Twitter has more than 900,000 views.

Hughes is embracing his newfound fame.

"I actually have an exam in about 10 minutes," he said in an interview Wednesday morning with "SportsCenter." "I wasn't going to miss this for the world. After that, I'm not going to lie, I'm probably just going to go back and take a nap because I got about two hours of sleep for this."

Hughes won the "free pizza for a year" from Santora's Pizza Pub & Grill. The restaurant chain has offered the promotion with the UB athletics department for about 15 years, said owner Paul Santora.

About 20 people have won the prize over the years, Santora said, but UB athletics said Hughes is the first person in about three years to sink a half-court shot.

Hughes had three tries to hit from half court, and he did it on the second try.

After banking the shot in off the backboard, Hughes went nuts. He was mobbed by UB players, as the team's cheerleaders celebrated and his fellow student fans roared their approval, before he raced around the court like he'd just won the NCAA championship.

Sportswriters at the game, and others on Twitter, noted the disconnect between Hughes' reaction and the prize.

Some other universities and NBA teams offer prizes worth thousands of dollars for half-court shooters, and when ESPN's College GameDay comes to town fans can win $18,000 for sinking a shot.

Even Siena College offers a $500 Dunkin' Donuts gift card.

Van Pelt picked up on that when he featured the Hughes shot as his "The Best Thing I Saw Today" clip.

"Steve, what do you think Kyle won?" Van Pelt asked his co-anchor Levy. "Tuition, a car, or a dozen pies?"

"With that reaction," Levy said, "I'm going to go with 'C,' 12 medium pizzas."

Levy, laughing, added, "They couldn't get large pizzas? They had to be medium pizzas?"

The conversation continued in that vein and is well worth watching online.

When Hughes appeared on "SportsCenter" via FaceTime on Wednesday, anchor Randy Scott also harped on the prize.

"C'mon, he deserves more than that," Scott said.

Hughes explained his over-the-top response to sinking the shot came because he realized Tuesday was his last men's basketball home game as a senior.

"That was just the overwhelming emotion coming out of me," the die-hard fan told Scott. "It wasn't about the food, to be honest."

Hughes said he was thrilled to share the moment with his friends in the "True Blue" section, including the fan who wears a Speedo and cowboy boots to games as "UB Naked Guy."

Santora's is enjoying the free publicity – "It's kind of great for us," Santora said – but some employees bristled at the view that the prize was too meager.

Marketing manager Kellie Kubala said people from outside Western New York don't realize how good the pizza is here, or how filling a medium pizza is.

Santora's sells a medium cheese pizza for $11.19. Pepperoni will set you back another $1.99.

The UB athletics department, for its part, said it has offered more lucrative prizes in the past, such as free tuition, $10,000 or use of a BMW for the weekend.

But those required hitting the shot on the first and only attempt, not within three tries.

"None of those winners had a reaction like Kyle did last night," UB athletics said in a statement. "Kyle’s been at every game over his four years at UB and the video shows that he knew how big that moment was while finishing out his senior year."

However, UB athletics and Santora's put their heads together Wednesday and agreed to boost Hughes' prize.

He now gets 12 large pizzas, each with a side of 10 wings.



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