6:03 PM EST, February 14, 2012
Aaron Bacote knew the last-minute turnover was on him. But that's not what prompted his anguished reaction: jersey pulled to his face, body bent at the waist.
"I knew it was over," the Bethel High senior and Peninsula District co-Player of the Year said Monday night. "I knew my season was over, my career was over.
"High school basketball was fun. But it's over, and I just feel bad."
Bethel had just lost to Menchville 48-42 in the opening round of the district tournament. The Bruins committed a season-high 20 turnovers, 13 after intermission, and Bacote's errant pass with the Monarchs leading 44-40 erased any doubt.
The victory advanced Menchville to not only the district semifinals but also the Eastern Region tournament. The defeat ended Bethel's season.
It's that time of year for high school and college basketball. As February careens into March, players and coaches cope with the finality of tournament competition.
Dennis Koutoufas, Menchville's veteran coach, knows how difficult it is for young people and adults. That's why he made a point of encouraging Bethel coach Craig Brehon and Bacote, an Old Dominion signee.
Bacote "can kill you with the pass, he can kill you with the shot," Koutoufas said. "In the second half, every time he got (the ball), we ran two guys at him. We had to. If we don't, we lose. It was mandatory.
"I told Brehon before the game tonight, 'No matter what happens, the job you've done this year has really impressed me.' I thought they were special all year, and he gets no reward for it."
"I wholeheartedly appreciated that comment," Brehon said Tuesday morning. "I wouldn't say we overachieved, but we got better as the year went on, and (the players) listened. That's a part of being coachable. I was very pleased just with the tone of the team throughout the year. We didn't have any issues."
Bacote and Rakeem Brown were the Bruins' only experienced returnees. But Bethel (15-8) tied Menchville and Phoebus for third place in the district, and a trip to the region tournament was one victory away.
"We've discussed this probability for some time," Brehon said. "We knew this was a very competitive district, from the first place to the sixth place beating each other up all year long.
"We told the kids two teams with winning records will be home after the first game of the district tournament. Unfortunately it turned out to be us." In the locker room afterward, Brehon told his players that he was proud of how they had conducted themselves throughout the season, of how they had avoided the petty jealousies that can derail any team. He saluted his five seniors: starters Bacote and Jashaun Dunn, and reserves Sequan Mann, Shiquan Haney and Germond Taylor.
That camaraderie started with the Bruins' best player.
"Aaron's leadership from the summer, throughout the season was very positive," Brehon said. "He understood that the undertaking was going to have to be a lot more through him. He's the only player I've ever had in my 17, 18 years here that's led the district in scoring, ever averaged 20 points a game.
"So he was asked to do something we're not accustomed to asking our players to do. I think he handled that role really well. He handled it with grace. I expect him to carry that on through his college career."
Bacote scored 10 points Monday, more than 12 below his average. But even as Menchville swarmed him, he remained efficient on both ends.
He took two charges. He scored on a face-up, baseline jumper and low-post fadeaway. He passed out of a double-team to Brown for a three. He dribbled coast-to-coast, absorbed a foul from Ben Sealey and converted a 3-point play.
Standing in a corner of the gym, ODU assistant coach Jim Corrigan smiled.
But none of those moments eased Bacote's pain.
"I feel like me and Rock (Brown) really let us down," he said. "We didn't play the way we could have played. Just a bad way to end it. You know it's going to end at some point. You just want to keep it going so bad. When it's over, there's nothing you can do."
I asked Bacote about ODU.
"That's really all I can look forward to," he said. "I don't have (summer ball) any more. I don't have any more (high school) games. I'll probably take a few weeks off, rest up -- it's been a long season. Just get ready and try to prepare myself for the next level."
Bacote can't recall the last day he didn't work on his game. He deserves that rest.
"I have a lot of time on my hands," Bacote said. "I'll think about everything."
David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by email at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/sports/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
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