I had just finished dinner when the injury occurred. It was sickening to watch. I noticed Kevin Ware go down in a heap as the camera cut away to Duke’s Tyler Thornton who had taken the three-point shot that Ware tried to contest.
Thornton’s face told a story immediately — he had of look of disbelief and almost terror on his face. Then he buried his face in his jersey.
When Ware went down it did not look natural. There had been no contact. The camera shot was from a distance and cut away quickly so it was hard tell what had happened. I was curious about what had happened. When I saw Thornton’s face curiosity turned to concern. It was obvious that something terrible had happened.
Then they showed Ware’s teammates’ faces and the concern grew deeper.
When CBS finally showed the replay my worst fears were confirmed. It was a devastating injury.
I have experienced severe ankle sprains in a similar manner –jumping and then landing on the point of my toe and rolling the ankle over. Somehow, Ware landed in a way that his ankle didn’t roll and so all the force was transferred to his tibia, which couldn’t take that force.
It was a freak injury but one that Louisville fans are familiar with. Michael Bush, the Cards former star running back, experienced a fracture of the tibia similar to Ware’s injury in a game with Kentucky at the beginning of his senior year.
Bush’s recovery to become an NFL running back is what gave Rick Pitino the positive light he needed to help refocus his team. Ware had surgery soon after the game and was up on crutches the next day.
Rick Pitino is probably one of the best motivators ever to coach the game of basketball. Whatever people think of him, he always finds the positive light in any cloud of negativity. Even he struggled in the moments after the injury to find the positive. But Fred Hina, the longtime U of L trainer reported to Pitino at halftime that it was the same type injury that Bush suffered and that gave Pitino the sliver of light he needed to refocus his team and regain his edge.
I have seen dislocated kneecaps, shoulders and fingers. I once played in a soccer game in which a teammate suffered a fracture in his upper tibia that did not break the skin but was severe nonetheless. None of those things looked as bad as Ware’s injury.
I really don’t know how the Cards performed at such a high level in the second half. In post-game press conferences Russ Smith and Chane Behanen, who are both pretty articulate young men, had trouble expressing how they got through it.
Maybe it’s the training these guys go through. They are asked by Pitino to be at a level of athletic conditioning that few other programs insist upon. What they go through to get ready for basketball season is grueling and painful. The pressure they are put under by their coach and fans is enormous.
It’s hard to believe that a team can play on autopilot and dismantle an outstanding team like Duke but I believe that is what they did. I hate comparing athletics to war but you hear soldiers say that they are trained so intensely that what they do under duress is because of their training. Maybe this time it is okay to make the comparison.
But whatever the answer is to how they performed at such a level under the circumstances–the Cards look like the odds on favorite to take the crown this weekend. In a tournament of upsets the Cards have been the one consistently dominant team. Every other team has had a scare. Louisville hasn’t had a close call since before the Big East tournament. Not even a horrific event like the Ware injury could deter them from a blowout victory over the mighty Blue Devils.
Let’s hope the Cards can figure out a way to continue to play at the frenetic pace that they have all season without the crucial minutes that Ware gives them. Who knows? Maybe there will be an unsung hero. Maybe lightly used guard Tim Henderson will come through even bigger than he did against Duke and provide ample rest for Smith and Peyton Siva.
If he can, then the Cards may have a great homecoming gift for their injured teammate as they travel to his hometown for the Final Four.