University of Louisville guard Kevin Ware may be able to travel with his team to the Final Four after breaking his lower right leg during yesterday’s national men’s college basketball tournament win over Duke, an injury that left his coach and teammates in tears.
Ware, a sophomore guard, underwent about two hours of surgery last night to have the broken bone re-set, the wound closed and a rod inserted in his right tibia, the school said.
Ware was injured when he landed after jumping and attempting to block a shot during the first half of Louisville’s 85-63 victory. His leg buckled and he immediately collapsed to the floor near the Louisville bench as the broken bone protruded from his leg.
“When he landed, I heard it and then I saw what happened,” Junior guard Russ Smith said at a news conference. “I immediately just fell. It was really hard for me to pull myself together because I didn’t ever think in a million years I’d see something like that. I was completely devastated.”
Smith was among several players who dropped on all fours with their heads on the court while the crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis fell silent. Louisville coach Rick Pitino, Smith and other Cardinals players wiped away tears as medical personnel attended to Ware, who was taken off the court on a stretcher after his leg was immobilized.
“I went over and I was going to help him up and all of a sudden I saw what it was and literally almost threw up,” Pitino said. “I don’t think we could have gathered ourselves if Kevin didn’t keep saying over and over again, ‘Just win the game.’ It was a gruesome sight, nothing like I’ve ever witnessed before in my life in a basketball game.”
The crowd stood and applauded, as did Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and his players, as Ware was taken out of the arena. The incident caused a nine-minute delay in play.
Ware was taken to an emergency room at a local hospital for surgery, the school said.
“Basically the bone popped out of his skin, it broke in two spots,” Pitino said. “It will take a year for him to come back. He’ll come back better than ever.”
Louisville athletic department spokesman Kenny Klein said Ware will remain in Indianapolis through at least tomorrow, when he may return to Louisville and then join the Cardinals as they travel to Atlanta for the Final Four. Ware played high school basketball in Rockdale County, Georgia, 24 miles (39 kilometers) east of Atlanta.
The injury was reminiscent of the compound fracture suffered by former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann in a nationally televised Monday Night Football game against the New York Giants in 1985.
“My heart goes out to Kevin Ware,” Theismann, who said he was watching the game, wrote on his Twitter account.
Louisville led 21-20 with six minutes, 33 seconds left in the first half when Ware was injured. The Cardinals outscored Duke 50-31 during the second half to pull away for the victory and earn a second straight trip to the Final Four of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament.
“We just came together and Kevin Ware was really the reason we pulled this out,” senior guard Peyton Siva said at a news conference. “He told us countless times, ‘Just go win this game for me. Don’t worry about me, I’m fine, just go win this game.’ We just wanted to do it for him.”
David Geier, an orthopedic surgeon and director of the Medical University of South Carolina sports medicine program, said an injury such as Ware’s is rare in basketball.
“They’ll put a metal rod down the center of the tibia, which people think of as the shin bone, to stabilize it,” Geier said by telephone. “That rod basically allows weight-bearing while the fracture is healing and that fracture goes on to become more solid over three to four months. To be fair, it’s a relatively straightforward surgery.”
Geier, who wasn’t involved in the surgery, said while the bone may heal in three or four months, a return to basketball will probably take longer because rehabilitation and building strength back up in the leg takes time.
“The more realistic expectation would be by the time fall practice starts,” Geier said. “September or October of next season, that’s probably a more complete timeframe. He’s got a very, very difficult road ahead of him.”
The 6-foot-2 (1.90 meter) Ware averaged 4.6 points and 1.8 rebounds as a reserve this season for Louisville, which is the lone No. 1 regional seed to reach the Final Four in Atlanta.
Ware scored a season-high 11 points in the Cardinals’ previous game, a 77-69 win over Oregon in the Midwest regional semifinals. He had three points last night, when sophomore forward Chane Behanan celebrated in the closing seconds by wearing Ware’s jersey on the Louisville bench.
“Everybody on the team just wanted to step up for him,” Louisville’s Peyton Siva said of Ware. “For us to show that focus and that determination, we just tried to do it for him.”