People and Community Sports

Students revel in the ‘Madness’

Rohin Vaidya and Benji Shokrian, undergraduate students and passionate basketball fans, have spent the past few weekends traveling across the country to cheer on the men’s basketball team through the NCAA March Madness tournament—orca suit and all.
From left, junior Benji Shokrian, sophomore Zander Samarasinghe, and senior Rohin Vaidya at the round of 32 in Albany.

From left, sophomore Zander Samarasinghe, junior Benji Shokrian, and senior Rohin Vaidya during the NCAA Tournament round of 32 in Albany, New York. Photo courtesy Rohin Vaidya

Rohin Vaidya and Benji Shokrian made a deal.

At the end of the 2021 men’s basketball season and feeling cheated of the full collegiate athletic fan experience because of the pandemic, the duo made one promise—that they would do whatever it takes to travel to every game the Miami Hurricanes men’s hoops team competed in during the NCAA March Madness tournament.

“I said to myself, ‘You know what, I have two years of college left. I’m going to go to everything I possibly can.’ So, any home game, any away game, I’m going to be there,” said Vaidya, who is now a senior studying business technology and sport administration at the University of Miami.

And so, their journey began in March 2022 in Greenville, South Carolina, rooting for the ’Canes basketball team during their first two matchups of the 2022 NCAA tournament. Vaidya and Shokrian then traveled to Chicago, where they witnessed the team’s berth to the Sweet 16 and its progression to the first Elite Eight in program history. Though the team fell just short of advancing to the next round, the students had faith their alma mater would be back in the tournament in the next year. 

“After Rohin and I went to Greenville last year for the round of 64 and round of 32 victories, we knew we wanted to do it again when the ’Canes had such a historic season in 2022,” said Shokrian, a junior majoring in sport administration.

Vaidya always has been an avid sports fan. When he enrolled at the University, he immediately gravitated toward Category 5, the student-run spirit programming group for athletics events.

The sports afficionado served as the chair of the basketball planning committee in 2021, where he attempted to organize spirit events for the student section during men’s and women’s basketball games, only to have his plans derailed by restrictions dictated because of the pandemic. Vaidya was ready to elevate the student experience in 2022, once those stipulations were lifted.

“It was a unique opportunity to step in and reenergize the student body about basketball, especially coming out of the pandemic,” Vaidya said.  

Now in his final year, he serves as chair of the organization and oversees several teams of students who put together programs for athletics events, and encourage their peers to root for their fellow ’Canes. Category 5 members lead the student section with animated chants and hand out themed giveaways. Vaidya is easy to spot in a sea of University students, since he usually dons something other than orange and green—a black orca whale suit.

Rohin orca
Vaidya with Sebastian the Ibis

Vaidya said it all started as a lighthearted joke. The student, who adored orca whales as a child, would begin his weekly Category 5 meetings with a fun fact about the marine animal. When one of his peers gifted him a one-piece suit, Vaidya wondered where he’d ever have the opportunity to wear it. His friend gave a pointed response—she wanted him to wear it to every basketball game. So, Vaidya did.  

“I started wearing it to the games, and the team kept winning. My friends told me I couldn’t take the suit off since we keep winning. So, I’ll keep wearing the suit. It’s been a lot of fun; it’s made for some really funny photos,” he said. “I think every school has students trying to do wild stuff. I’m just glad to be a part of all of it for the University of Miami.”

As the men’s season got underway in October 2022, Vaidya and Shorkian were optimistic. The duo and their peers in Category 5 poured all their efforts into supporting the Miami Hurricanes basketball teams, yielding a full season of record-breaking student section attendance during an equally as historic season for the University’s men’s and women’s programs.

“Between beating Duke during the whiteout game and storming the court after winning the ACC against Pittsburgh, many UM students have had the chance to experience the magic of our men’s basketball team this season,” said Shokrian.

After watching a season where the team only lost one game at home, Vaidya and Shokrian’s dreams to return to the NCAA tournament came to fruition. The 2023 post-season rolled around, they knew they were up for the challenge once more.

The pair traveled—to Albany, New York, and Kansas City, Missouri—to carry the momentum on the road that had begun during the regular season in Coral Gables. The basketball fanatics watched their team squeeze out a victory over the Drake University Bulldogs, then take down the Indiana Hoosiers to advance to the Sweet 16 once again.

“The past two weekends in Albany and Kansas City have been an amazing way for us to show our support to the team that has provided the entire student body with amazing experiences at Watsco Center all season,” Shokrian said. 

The pair also witnessed the program’s Sweet 16 victory over the No. 1 seeded Houston Cougars. And finally, a moment Vaidya could only describe as surreal, the Miami Hurricanes men’s team beat the Texas Longhorns to advance to the first Final Four in the University’s history.

“We’ve played some really passionate basketball schools this tournament, that also have really passionate fans that come out in numbers to these games,” Vaidya added. “Those fans might be really loud at the start of the game, but they’re quiet at the end of the game and that’s what matters to us.”

Through Friday evening flights, late nights working on assignments in hotel rooms, and early morning alarms for Monday departures, Vaidya and Shokrian noted that they never missed a class.

Now, the whirlwind continues as the students are repacking their bags—complete with orange and green attire, an orca whale one-piece suit, and their brazen spirit for the University of Miami—to jet off to Houston for the Final Four matchup.