Kevin Ware made his long-awaited return for the the University of Louisville this past Wednesday against Pikeville in front of a sold-out crowd at the KFC Yum! Center. The junior guard had not played since suffering a gruesome broken leg against Duke in last season's Elite Eight.
Two-Hundred Twenty days later, the man who inspired last seasons "Win 4 Ware" slogan during the Cards' Championship run checked into a game and knocked down his first shot from the field, sending the hometown crowd into an absolute frenzy.
Kevin Ware was the emotional spark that the Louisville basketball team rallied around last season on their way to the school's third national championship. Ware will continue to be an inspiration to his teammates by simply being on the floor.
Rick Pitino had previously stated that the plan was for Ware to dress for Saturday's opener against the College of Charleston. After the game, Pitino told ESPN.com he "wanted to get him (Ware) some minutes just to get him over the jitters in case I need to use him against Charleston."
Eric Crawford of WDRB-Louisville asked Ware his feelings on the return: "I've been waiting for this moment, what, 220 days? So I'm happy. I was a little nervous...I honestly thought I'd airball my first shot, but when it went in, everything went back to normal, finally...Being able to play basketball again."
Kevin Ware isn't the only returning Cardinal fans are looking forward to. Suspended big man Chane Behanan is expected to return to the team sometime this month. Behanan has proven to be a big-game player despite his off-the-court transgressions. Many skeptics have said that Louisville's chances at a repeat took a huge hit with Behanan gone.
Like it or not, the junior forward is on track to make his return sooner rather than later. Behanan's return also gives preseason first-team All-American Russ Smith a safety net for those times he transforms from Russ into Russdiculous. Behanan's ability to rebound combined with Montrezl Harrell's finishing ability will make the Cards a force on the boards.
Luke Hancock, who has been dealing with a foot injury, is expected to return to the team within the next 10 days. Hancock is the Cardinals' most dangerous three-point shooter and a senior co-captain. He almost single-handedly rallied the Cards back to take the lead on Michigan in last season's national championship.
Hancock has proven to be Louisville's calm in the storm, always keeping his composure and coming up with big shot after big shot. The return of a senior that drains everything from beyond the arc should help keep defenses from collapsing on the paint, allowing Behanan and sophomore Montrezl Harrell to feast on the glass. Hancock's consistency and composure will be the most valuable trait he brings to a group of men that at times becomes overly emotional on the court.
Bottom line is, Kevin Ware will get the national attention for his return, and he should. Ware suffered a horrifying injury on national TV and became a rallying point for a championship run. He's been on ESPN, CBS and Letterman. For such a quick comeback, he deserves a bit of the rock star treatment.
However, the impending returns of Hancock and Behanan should not be overlooked. Hancock's return is just around the corner and Behanan is still working to convince Rick Pitino he's matured and ready to return. One thing is for certain: Once all the pieces of this puzzle come together, with Hall of Famer Rick Pitino directing traffic, the Louisville Cardinals' road to a repeat national title will get a whole lot clearer.
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