When Louisville sophomore guard Kevin Ware awoke from surgery to repair the gruesome open fracture he suffered Sunday, he was greeted by the sight of a trophy, a shiny sign that his teammates had carried out his order to win the NCAA tournament’s Midwest Region final and advance to the Final Four.
Ware underwent two hours of surgery in which his right tibia was reset, a rod was inserted in his leg and the open wound caused by the break was closed, Louisville announced. Ware is expected to remain in an Indianapolis hospital until Tuesday, while doctors monitor him for signs of infection and to make sure that blood flow has been restored in his leg. Upon his release, he hopes to travel with his teammates to Atlanta, his hometown, for Saturday’s Final Four game against Wichita State.
Louisville advanced with a masterful 85-63 victory over Duke, but the talk the day after the game was still about Ware’s injury (see it here, but be warned that it’s quite graphic) and how such an awful moment became a rallying point for the Cardinals, who were stunned when his Ware’s leg snapped — an unusual basketball injury — with 6 minutes, 33 seconds left in the first half. Wayne Blackshear, initially unaware of it, inbounded the ball after a three-pointer and fell to his knees when he saw Ware’s leg. Chane Behanan and Russ Smith collapsed, with Behanan crying.
Coach Rick Pitino stayed with Ware until emergency medical personnel took over. “I went over and I was going to help him up and then all of a sudden I saw what it was and I literally almost threw up,” Pitino said. “And then I just wanted to try to get a towel to get it over that. But all the players came over and saw it.”
The calmest, most focused person in Lucas Oil Stadium may have been Ware himself. “When he went down, I was scared,” Behanan, wearing Ware’s jersey, said after the game (via Fox Sports). “I’ve never cried for anybody like that before. And he’s down there saying, `Don’t worry about me. I’m good. Play for me. Win it. Let’s go.’”
Pitino reminded his players of that at the half. “I told them at halftime, I said, ‘Guys, if we don’t get him back home to Atlanta, it wasn’t worth playing this season,’ ” said Pitino. “And they did it.”
Louisville came out early for the second half and took off running. “I felt awful for the players, felt awful for the fans,” Pitino said (via Fox Sports). “But we had to gather ourselves. We couldn’t lose this game for him. We couldn’t.”
Ware’s girlfriend was with him in the ambulance as he was taken from the arena. His mother, Lisa Junior, was watching the game on TV in Conyers, Ga., and admitted that she “lost it” when CBS ran a replay of the injury. As her son headed to surgery around 8 p.m., he called to say (via SI.com), “Calm down, mom. I’m okay.”
Pitino planned to stay with Ware, along with team doctors and Pitino’s son, Richard, who recruited Ware. “He was groggy, in good spirits,” Rick Pitino told the Associated Press. “He saw us win the trophy and was crying and said it was all worthwhile. We didn’t cut down the net, but I left him the trophy.”
Later, Ware’s sister tweeted: