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Error of brave Bernardeco pulls at the heart-strings
NEWCASTLE (Paul Nilsen's Women's Basketball Worldwide) - Perhaps by now those on social media will have mocked Portugal playmaker Carolina Bernardeco for what was a bizarre conclusion to a game at the U18 European Championship Women last Friday.
I sincerely hope not and let me paint the scene for you.
Portugal were losing by a point against Czech Republic on the second day of the event and she had the ball in her hands on the last possession - ready to execute what could have been the game-winning play for the tournament hosts.
As everyone nudged towards the edge of their seats in anticipation of a thrilling conclusion to a great contest, Bernardeco then inexplicably allowed the game clock to run down, did nothing and handed the bemused Czechs a victory.
Worse still, when the buzzer sounded she celebrated wildly and within a matter of seconds, the realisation of what she had done hit her hard - very hard.
From elation, bewilderment, utter shock and then crushing embarrassment, she wanted the ground to swallow her up as she realised her 'brain freeze' (for the want of a better phrase) which had cost her team a chance of winning.
Absolutely inconsolable, in floods of tears and barely able to shake hands with the officials and her opponents, the 17-year-old was so distressed that she immediately ran across the court to hide in the locker room.
And, before you glibly dismiss this as just an over-reaction of a teenage girl, it was genuinely horrendous for her. She was playing in front of a massive and perhaps unprecedented youth crowd of over 2,000 fans for the host nation including family, friends, team-mates and staff.
As she disappeared from view, it quickly became clear why she had made her mistake.
Her team had been fouled in quick succession as Czech Republic tried to disrupt the final possession. Glancing up at the scoreboard, she must have seen it clearly that the home team were 60-59 ahead. To all intent and purposes within her mind in that moment, she was playing for the home team and waiting for another foul to come.
Under tournament rules and the schedule, Czech Republic were the home team.
As we all realised what had probably happened, I have to confess that I wanted to run to the locker room after her and explain everything was okay.
We were all seriously concerned, because seeing a youngster in that kind of state was absolutely awful and I don't think I have ever seen a player so upset. We could all of course see it was an error and not the end of the world - but at that moment, it was of course the most important thing in her life.
As it was, a couple of her team-mates went running after her, as others remainded courtside to undertake their post-game warm down exercises.
Minutes later when working courtside, we all suddenly heard what was probably the biggest cheer of the tournament as most of the crowd and at least 1,000-1,500 still inside the venue got to their feet.
We saw Bernardeco was coming back onto the court and I can't really explain it, but it was one of the most powerful and emotional moments I have ever experienced. Instinctively, we all joined in with the applause and everyone was on their feet roaring their approval.
Head held high, Bernardeco fought back more tears and showed great courage to face the massive crowd again as she subsequently went round each one of her team-mates to apologise for her error.
In the car back to the hotel an hour later, one of my colleagues confessed they had almost burst into tears when Bernardeco returned to the court and received the support and adulation of the locals. Then the driver admitted he had also felt the same.
We all did.
Maybe you had to be there to appreciate or understand it properly, but I don't think any of us have ever felt as emotional at any game. There was just something truly inspiring about Bernardeco and how she plucked up the courage to return.
She will of course be an even better player for the experience.
Thanks to both her and the brilliant local supporters in Portugal for providing us all with one of the most endearing moments you could ever wish to experience near a basketball court.
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