Thursday, April 4, 2013

Broken Wing. Unbroken Will.

The Madness of March has given way to the finality of April.  This weekend in Atlanta the four remaining contestants from the original field of 68 shall vie for the NCAA Division I Basketball Championship (Dude Division).   The only #1 seed still standing three weeks post-Selection Sunday is the University of Louisville Cardinals.  The Cardinals earned their way to Atlanta this past Sunday by defeating Duke University in the Midwest Regional Final.  

Unless you have been off the grid entirely since early Sunday evening (EDT), you undoubtedly are aware that the principal story line to emerge from the Cardinals' defeat of the Blue Devils was not the final score.  It was the horrific open fracture of his right lower leg that Louisville sophomore guard Kevin Ware suffered towards the end of the first half when he landed after challenging a three-point field goal attempt by one of the Dookies.  Note to reader:  there are many (too many for my taste) places on-line where you can see the video of Ware's injury.  This is not one of them.  

In what had to have been a moment comprised of equal parts terror and pain, young Kevin Ware did something extraordinary.  As his coaches, teammates and everyone in the arena associated with the Louisville program (not to mention his older sister and his mom - the latter of whom was watching on television from her home in Conyers, Georgia) was sobbing and breaking down around him, Ware gritted his teeth and stood fast.  First he assured his coach, Rick Pitino, that he did not need to worry about Ware and to focus on the task at hand:  winning the game ("When the injury happened he said to me five times I'm OK, win the game").  Then he implored Coach Pitino to have his teammates - who were all gathered together on the foul line - come over to him so he could speak to them.   When the rest of the flock arrived at the fallen Cardinal, Ware gave them the same message:  finish what they had started.  Win the game.  Earn the trip to the Final Four.  Cardinal Chane Benahan said afterwards, "He was in a lot of pain, so much pain.  But he called us over and told us not to worry about him.  He didn't even care about his leg.  He cared about us.  I don't know how he did that." 

His ability to keep his head extended far beyond the court.  Approximately thirty minutes or so after medical personnel transported him from the arena to the hospital - and while he was awaiting surgery - a nurse allowed Kevin Ware to borrow a cell phone so he could call his mother.  He told her that he needed to call Mom because he knew she would be freaking out.  His mom, Lisa Junior, confirmed that she was indeed in the midst of said freaking when the phone rang and she heard his voice on the line.  "He didn't even say hello.  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's teammates did not cut down the nets following their Regional Final victory on Sunday night.  They had decided some weeks ago that they shall only do that if and when they win the National Championship on  Monday night.  I know so little about college hoops that one could fit all I know in a thimble and still have more than adequate space for one's thumb so I will not pretend to know what the impact of Ware's injury and his absence shall be on the Cardinals.  I am the genius who picked New Mexico to win the title and watched them instead become the answer to a trivia question, "Who is the only team to ever lose to HARVARD in the NCAA basketball tournament?"  I know not whether Louisville will earn the right to cut down the nets on Monday night.  Whether they do or not, I know not whether the sight of them on the floor with twine draped around them will be the image that I take away from the 2013 NCAA Tournament.  

....Kevin Ware posted it to his Twitter account on Tuesday as he prepared to leave Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis for the trip back to campus. Yesterday he and his Cardinals teammates arrived in his hometown for this weekend's Final Four.  A remarkable young man.  A hell of a good story.  

Irrespective of the final score.


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