Samantha Cerio got an unexpected boost of national exposure Monday night, when basketball Hall of Famer Charles Barkley offered an impromptu, heartfelt message to the Auburn gymnast at the tail end of CBS's broadcast for the national championship game.
While signing off from his TV duties, which included thanking CBS, college basketball fans and Monday's title-game combatants (Virginia beat Texas Tech in overtime), Barkley got emotional when discussing Cerio, who had incurred a gruesome injury over the weekend, devastating both knees on a landing point.
"There's a young lady at Auburn University, who broke her leg in a gymnastic contest the other day," said Barkley, a former hoops star at Auburn (1981-84) and global icon at the NBA level. "I want to give her my love and say, 'War Eagle.'
"Samantha Cerio, I hope I am pronouncing your name right, young lady.
"I saw your devastating leg injury. You graduate from Auburn. We love you. We're proud of you. War Eagle."
In a statement to the media, Auburn gymnastics coach Jeff Graba said Cerio had dislocated both knees during Friday's NCAA Regional semifinal in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
- Auburn gymnast undergoes surgery after suffering devastating leg injuries
- Public support pours in for Auburn gymnast who incurred major injury during NCAA regional meet
According to previous 11Alive reports, Cerio's legs buckled during a floor exercise when she landed badly at the end of a tumbling run.
Cerio, a senior at Auburn, immediately clutched both legs in pain.
On Sunday, Cerio posted a lengthy Instagram post on Sunday, announcing her retirement from gymnastics.
Dr. James Andrews, perhaps the most heralded sports orthopedist in the country, reportedly operated on Cerio Monday, repairing multiple torn ligaments in both knees.