The Louisville Cardinals men's basketball team rallied around beloved guard Kevin Ware and won the national championship following his gruesome leg injury in the Elite Eight last season. And while it was unclear when he would be able to return to action, Ware took the floor to great fanfare against Pikeville in an exhibition contest less than a week before the regular season begins.
Kent Taylor of WAVE-TV in Louisville relays the exciting news:
Rick Bozich of WDRB in Louisville provided his final stat line:
Ware was a reserve player for the Cardinals last year, averaging 4.5 points, nearly two rebounds and just under one assist per game. While he may not have been as impactful as the likes of Gorgui Dieng and Peyton Siva, he was the lifeblood of the team in many ways, and that showed based on the way his teammates reacted when he got hurt.
Ware suffered his horrific injury during a clash with Duke in the fifth round of the NCAA tournament, and his teammates were visibly shaken when it happened. A typical broken leg isn't usually viewed as a huge deal in present-day sports, but Ware's injury was so stomach-churning that the broadcast refrained from showing the replay soon after.
Despite the emotional nature of what happened, Ware's teammates pulled themselves together and ended up blowing out the Blue Devils by a score of 85-63. Much of that had to do with Ware urging his teammates to finish what they started, according to ESPN.com.
"The bone's six inches out of his leg and all he's yelling is, 'Win the game, win the game,'" Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said. "I've not seen that in my life...Pretty special young man."
Winning is exactly what the Cardinals did as they gutted out tough contests against Wichita State and Michigan to reign supreme over the college basketball world. Ware may not have been able to affect the outcome on the court, but there is no doubt that his teammates and coaches wanted nothing more than to cut down the nets for his sake.
Coaches are always looking for bulletin-board material or inspirational stories to get their players emotionally invested, but the Ware incident ensured that Pitino didn't have to do any of that. The Cardinals already had the talent necessary to win the national title, but Ware's situation clearly put them over the top.
Pitino was noncommittal regarding Ware's recovery timetable entering the season, because he obviously didn't want to pressure Ware into returning before he was ready. According to Dana O'Neil and Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com, Pitino had no intention of rushing Ware back entering the 2013-14 campaign.
"He's taking it slow," Pitino said. "People want to see him on the court healthy. We want to see him flourishing."
Not only will Ware continue to be an emotional leader for the team, but he'll also be expected to assume an even bigger role as a junior on the court. Star guard Russ Smith decided to stay for his senior season, but Siva is no longer in the picture, which means Ware's minutes figure to increase significantly when he is back to 100 percent.
With Smith, Luke Hancock, Wayne Blackshear and others still in the fold, Louisville has a golden opportunity to win a second consecutive national championship. Ware is admittedly a bit of an X-factor, since it is uncertain how much the injury might have halted his progress in terms of improving from his sophomore to his junior year, but he should provide a boost to the team regardless.
The Cardinals currently have all the momentum in the world, coming off a national title with their spiritual leader now back in action. While another national championship is far from guaranteed, there is no question that Ware's return will help fuel the fire of the players, coaches and fans.
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