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Dan Shaughnessy

He'll let this crushing loss roll off him

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / March 11, 2009
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Basketball is the most important thing in your life. You are a teenage baller and you are playing on the parquet floor of Boston Garden and all you need to do is catch this pass and make the breakaway layup and you will send the state championship game into overtime.

Down by 2. Ball at the other end. Four seconds left. Ball coming to you. One more shot.

How many times have you played this out in your head?

The whole thing unfolds in slow motion.

Your teammate grabs a rebound off a missed free throw . . .

Four . . .

Teammate starts upcourt while you break down the right sideline toward the other hoop . . .

Three . . .

Teammate dribbles once, twice, three times, then feathers a lob from midcourt that miraculously lands in your hand . . .

Two . . .

You take the Hail Mary pass and go up from the right side, but it's a tough conversion on the fly. You put it up a little too hard.

One.

The ball rolls off the front rim . . .

Zero.

You land hard, grabbing the green stanchion. You break your fall and your heart at the same time.

Buzzer. Cathedral 67, North Cambridge Catholic 65.

Pandemonium on the floor.

You dissolve into a puddle while the guys on the other team mob one another. Your teammates pull you to your feet. You pull your shirt up over your head.

Then you have to line up and shake hands with the players who beat your team by 2 points. It's hard just to stand. Then you have to go to center court and accept the trophy as state runner-up. Then they ask you if you'll go down to the press room and answer questions from folks you have never met. Folks with microphones and notebooks.

"I lost it for the team," Brandon Bowman said when he sat in front of the cameras. "I could have made it . . . I have no words.

"I had a dream last night that I was going to make the shot. I missed the shot."

Behind him, teammate Robinson Vilmont was standing in front of another camera, sobbing uncontrollably, shoulders shaking, tears streaming down his face.

There will be more basketball for Brandon Bowman. He's a perfectly sculpted 6 feet 4 inches and won a state championship when he was a junior. There are plenty of dunks, blocked shots, and box scores in his future. Unlike a lot of high school seniors, he has not played his final game, and this will not be his final memory.

But it was hard to think about any of that yesterday afternoon after the missed shot that would have put his team into overtime in the state championship game against Cathedral.

Feature-length motion pictures are made of moments like this. It's one of those life lessons teenagers hate. Grownups keep telling you it's not the end of the world. Don't be too hard on yourself. Someday you'll be able to look back on this and it won't hurt so badly.

But it is the end of the world when you are 18 years old and all you care about is basketball and you have the state championship in your hands, only to watch it roll off the orange rim at the Garden.

"I don't want to compare it to someone passing away, but it's very final," said North Cambridge coach Daniel Salazar. "And to be just inches away from being on the other end . . . It breaks my heart, man, breaks my heart."

Bowman scored 19 points in the defeat. Vilmont had 21. The Panthers led Cathedral by 8 with five minutes to play but succumbed in the furious final minutes. Both teams missed buckets of free throws down the stretch. Both teams turned the ball over and committed sloppy fouls. Everybody missed shots. But Bowman missed the one that will be talked about 20 years from now. And it hurt.

Still, he manned up. He felt the love of his teammates and his coach and then he demonstrated the poise of a true champion.

"It's over, but Brandon being the leader he is, after all he went through, he made sure they all stood up," said Salazar. "We got up and we hugged each other and we just say we're happy to be a family. I can't emphasize how much I love these guys and how proud I am of them."

Bowman's mom was there. So were his grandmother, grandfather, and sister. He lives in Uphams Corner and he says his grades are on the rise and he has generated some interest from Division 3 schools.

"Brandon loves his family and takes care of his family," said Salazar. "He always says he wants to make his grandmother proud, and I bet she's the proudest woman on earth right now."

How long will it take for Brandon to get over it?

"I'm over it right now," said the dignified young man. "It's out of my system."

When the reporters were done asking questions, Bowman stood up and quietly said, "Thanks a lot."

Then he sprinted out of the room, down the long hallway, toward the Panthers' locker room, toward the rest of his life.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com

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