Surrounded by his family and girlfriend in his hospital room, an upbeat Kevin Ware has a simple message for all of the well-wishers and people worried about him: He’s going to be OK.
The Louisville guard, who broke his tibia in horrific fashion during the Cardinals’ Elite Eight game Sunday against Duke, is hoping to be discharged from an Indianapolis hospital Tuesday afternoon and return to his teammates at school.
“Hopefully I’ll be back in time to watch practice,” Ware told ESPN.com by phone Monday. “It hurt,s but I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine.”
Ware, who had a steel rod inserted in his leg during two-hour surgery late Sunday night, said that when the injury initially happened, he thought it wasn’t serious. Then he saw the reaction of his coach, Rick Pitino, and knew something was wrong.
“I jumped and my leg felt kind of funny,” he said. “When Coach P. tried to help me up, he gave me a funny kind of look. I’m looking at him and then I look down and I see my bone sticking out. It wasn’t a hurt feeling. I just went into shock. In the moment, you don’t know what’s wrong with you. You’re just looking, thinking, ‘How did this happen?’ I never watched the replay. I never want to.”
In the chaos after the injury, it was Ware who somehow remained calm. Pitino and his players talked after the game about how Ware asked his teammates to come to him, imploring them to win the game and not worry about him.
It wasn’t, Ware said, an act of bravado but something he believed he had to do.
“Seeing Chane Behanan cry as hard as he ever cried, and Russ (Smith), Coach, all of them, I just looked at Coach P and said, ‘You gotta pull yourself together. Tell the guys to come over here,’ ” Ware said. “They came over and they were still emotional but I meant it. I told them, ‘Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.’ I just had to block the pain out and put my situation on hold. I never back down for a challenge and to me, that’s what this is. Just another challenge. I’ll get through it. I wanted them to know that.”
He delivered the same message to his mother.
Lisa Junior and her husband, Wesley, were watching the game in their home in Conyers, Ga. They saw Ware fall, but didn’t realize the severity of the injury until CBS showed a replay.
“I thought maybe it was an ankle sprain,” Wesley Junior said. “Then we saw his teammates on the ground and we were like, ‘What happened? What happened?’ Then they showed the replay and it was, just wow. Lisa lost it for a little bit.”
But her spirits were buoyed when 30 minutes later, Ware called. While doctors were planning his surgery, Ware borrowed a phone from a nurse to call his mother because, he said, “I knew she’d be freaking out.”
“He didn’t even say hello,” Lisa Junior said. “He just said, ‘Mom, I need you to calm down.’ He knew I’d be a mess. Once I heard his voice, I was better.”
Ware said other than in the moment immediately after the injury, he didn’t break down until minutes before surgery. He saw some of the post-game news conference interviews of his teammates, saw Behanan parading his jersey around the Lucas Oil Stadium court and, quietly, by himself, cried.
“Once I was by myself, I let the tears out,” he said. “Those are my brothers. I love them to death.”
Pitino and other members of Louisville’s staff went directly from the game to the hospital, bringing the Midwest Regional trophy with them. They stayed until the Juniors, who hopped the first flight from Atlanta, arrived Monday morning.
They all plan to go to Louisville on Tuesday, if Ware’s discharge is approved. He wants to travel with the team to Atlanta, which also is his home, for the Final Four.
“I’m hoping I can go. Really hoping so,” Ware said. “We still have a job to get done. We still have one more goal.”