Doctors had Kevin Ware moving about his hospital room on crutches Monday morning (AP Photo)
LOUISVILLE (USA Today) -- At first, Louisville guard Kevin Ware thought he had tweaked his ankle. But even when he realized it was more serious than that - much more serious - he couldn't have imagined the amount of support from across the country he's received since suffering a gruesome leg injury on national television last Sunday.
"I'm a quiet guy," Ware said Wednesday during a news conference on Louisville's campus. "Getting all this attention, It's not me, but it's really appreciated."
Ware suffered a open fracture of the right tibia during Louisville's 85-63 victory over Duke in the Midwest Regional semifinal. With about 6 ½ minutes remaining in the first half, Ware ran out to contest a 3-pointer by Duke's Tyler Thornton and immediately crumpled to the ground right in front of Louisville's bench.
"It's kind of insane because we played Duke in the Bahamas (in November) and the exact same play happened with the exact same player on the opposite side of the court," Ware said. "I contested the shot like I always do. I felt like I should have blocked the shot because I jumped so high. I didn't see where I landed but I feel like stuff like this doesn't happen for no reason. I don't assume to know what the reason is but it's a process I'll be ready for."
Teammates were visibly shaken as they saw Ware's broken bone protruding through his skin, and the game stopped for several minutes as Ware was transported out of the arena on a stretcher. Shortly thereafter, he was in surgery to repair the injury and was released from the hopsital on Tuesday afternoon.
Ware is expected to be with the team in Atlanta, his hometown, this weekend for the Final Four. Louisville plays Wichita State on Saturday while Syracuse plays Michigan.
Asked if he would say anything to the team before the national semifinal, Ware said he thought the team would get motivation enough just by "looking over and seeing me on the bench. ... We don't need a lot of motivation. We're in the Final Four."
Though Ware's recovery will be long and arduous, coach Rick Pitino said it was a huge relief when he got out of the hospital.
"I think we're all fine now," Pitino said. "Once I saw the doctors and they told me he's going to be fine, the surgery went great, and if we can get by no infection we're over the hump. Right now just having Kevin around and joking with the guys we all feel at ease. We can all exhale a little bit."
Ware, who said he was initially in a state of shock, said he realized the seriousness of the injury when he saw Pitino's reaction.
"At first I went to help him up and as getting ready to help him up, and I actually didn't know what I was looking at for about five seconds," Pitino said. "Then he saw my eyes and looked and went, 'Oh my God.' From that point the only words he uttered were, 'Just win, I'll be fine.'"
Ware said he didn't realize Louisville had won the game until the next morning when the post-surgery medication wore off.
"What was going through my head was either I'm going to cry and my team is going to be devastated and we won't win this game, or I'll say some words and it'll get us through," he said.
Ware said doctors told him it would take 8-to-12 weeks for the bone to heal, but the rehab timeline beyond that is unclear.
Regarding the weekend, he said the team goals are still the same: "win the national championship."
Earlier in the day during an interview with ESPN, Ware said when he woke up after his surgery he was groggy, but saw Pitino standing by his hospital bed with the regional championship trophy.
"It brought tears to my eyes," Ware said. "It was one of the greatest moments of my life."
Ware began to cry when Davis asked about the encouragement he has received from teammates.
"Words can't explain," Ware said. "I love those guys to death."
Through his tears, Ware had a solid perspective on his injury.
"I know my situation isn't the worst," he said. "I'm truly blessed."
At the afternoon press conference, Pitino said "any coach in the country" would have gone to the hospital to see his player, but then seemed to indicate he went above and beyond when he agreed to get Ware food. Ware said he wanted chicken, "and he sent me to Hooters." said Pitino with a laugh.