UConn’s Own “Folk Hero” on Basketball and Green Tea Lava Cake

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Grace Merritt

4 min read


Do you remember Ace Watanasuparp?

He was the first Asian-American walk-on for the UConn men’s basketball team in 2000.

And while he still plays in a couple of basketball leagues to stay in shape, he has gone on to become a vice president at Citizen’s Bank and open a boutique dessert bar in Manhattan.

Watanasuparp ’02 (BUS) says he owes a lot of his confidence and drive to those days playing for the Huskies.

Watanasuparp, 35, a native New Yorker of Taiwanese and Thai descent, was the first Asian-American player to make it onto the UConn team as a walk on. That made him a bit of a folk hero at the time.

“I received tons of fan mail,” he recalled. “American families were writing to me in Chinese. Tons of families were inviting me over for dinner. It was almost surreal.”

He remembered overhearing students talking about him on campus one day.

“They said ‘I think he’s 6-foot-5.’ I’m only 5-9, but these folktales build up around you.”

He was one of hundreds of student-athletes who tried out for the team in Gampel for the 2000-01 season his junior year.

“It was a challenge. Maybe 400 kids tried out,” he recalled. “I’ve been through so many challenges since then and was able to overcome them as well. It’s something that you carry with you and it becomes a part of you.”

Chocolate green tea lava cake

Watanasuparp is a vice president at Citizens Bank and, at the same time, owns seven Asian-inspired eateries in New York City with his cousin. These include Obao and the Spot Dessert Bar, which features inventive Western desserts infused with Asian ingredients. His signature Chocolate Green Tea Lava Cake won a Best of New York award.

“You have your traditional lava cake but you also have a green tea component as well, sort of like me. I’m of Asian descent but I was born here as an American. So I took my two worlds and made it into a food concept,” he explained.

The life of a walk-on

Watanasuparp, a point guard, played his junior and senior years alongside such greats as Butler, Emeka Okafor, and Taliek Brown. He actually got into about eight games, though “usually when it was a blow-out,” he said.

Despite the hard practices and limited court time, he was proud to contribute to the team.
photo of ace watanasuparp

“Just knowing that I was there, pushing the scholarship players was enough. I thought whatever I can contribute, whether it’s small or large, whether it’s emotional, or psychological, I was just so proud to put on the uniform. I loved just being part of the team, being a part of the history, being a Husky.”

Playing for Coach Jim Calhoun was nothing short of life-changing.

“He taught us a lot of things that I bring to my job, like discipline, hard work, determination, not being selfish, and playing for one another,” Watanasuparp said. “He taught me so much on and off the court. He played a huge role in my life and in the success I’ve achieved.”

He fondly remembers living in South campus and the profound sense of community that would settle over Storrs whenever there was a football or basketball game.

“You’d drive around town and they were all going to the game,” he said. “I remember the amount of support and pride they had for the game. You just felt like family at UConn. It was us against the world back then.”

Watanasuparp grew up in Queens, N.Y. and played basketball all four years at Bronx High School of Science. He majored in finance at UConn and took his first job in the mortgage industry as a loan officer with Citibank in Queens. He moved up in the field and eventually became president of DE Capital Mortgage at age 31. He is currently vice president for retail lending at Citizens Bank.

Giving to New Practice Facility

Nine Ways Banking is like Basketball

  1. Having great teammates pays dividends
  2. It’s important to suit up
  3. You’re always striving for the best performance
  4. Good judgment leads to slam dunks
  5. Nothing like a good rebound
  6. Practice improves skill
  7. A calm demeanor helps
  8. Know your competition and have a game plan to beat them
  9. It’s all about the numbers

Watanasuparp is so grateful for his experience at UConn that he recently donated $25,000 to the new Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center. The $40 million basketball practice facility is funded entirely by private donations.

He hopes his gift encourages other alums to donate and helps raise the University’s athletic and academic profile even further.

“I think it could be that much better with all of us giving financially to the school that made such an impact on our lives,” he said.

His teammate, Sacramento Kings star Caron Butler and his wife, Andrea, donated to the Werth Center in March.

When Watanasuparp is not busy at the bank or with his restaurants, he likes to get together with Butler, Okafor, Brown, Ben Gordon, Robert Swain, Edmund Saunders, Kwasi Gyambibi, Mike Woodward, and Ray Allen. He also has a new passion for traveling to other countries.

But his Husky days are never far from his mind.

“It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life,” he said.

Jonathan at an event in Hartford CT
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