“All he’s saying is ‘win the game’ while the bone is popping out of his skin.”
According to Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, that’s what Atlanta native Kevin Ware told his teammates as he was lying on his back on the sidelines, the bottom of his right leg snapped in half, what could very well be a career-ending injury.
“Bring Kevin home.”
That’s what Pitino told his team during every timeout, an effort to get Louisville to take that next step closer to a national title, which is being played in Ware’s back yard at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
And that’s exactly what they did, beating the Duke Blue Devils — who may very well have been the best team left in this tournament, other than Louisville — in impressive fashion, 85-63.
But what made this win so impressive stretches far beyond just how good Louisville’s defense looked or just how dominant Russ Smith and Peyton Siva have been over the last three weeks or just how terrifying the 17-2 run that the Cardinals put on Duke in the second half must be for Wichita State, their opponent in the Final Four.
“The bone’s 6 inches out of his leg and all he’s yelling is, `Win the game, win the game,”‘ Pitino said afterward. “I’ve not seen that in my life. … Pretty special young man.”
What’s impressive is that they were able to do all of that after watching their teammate get wheeled off the court on a stretcher; after the stars of the team were sobbing on the court during the game; after watching their head coach get moved to tears and their bench players vomit on the sideline.
Look, players understand that people get injured in sports. They are not only tough, but the best have a short memory and the ability to compartmentalize. They can focus on the game at hand while dealing with all kinds of distractions: problems at home, a girlfriend that dumped them, vile chants from students sections, the immense pressure of performing in front of 40,000 people with millions more watching at home.
So in a sense, it’s not surprising that the best team in the country was able to get back into the game mentally. There’s a reason that the Cardinals are as good as they are.
But think about how you felt watching that injury on TV. Now think about how people in the stands felt watching that injury. Now think about how it must have felt to be someone in the program — a teammate, a friend, a coach — and see one of your on with their career flashing before their eyes. Imagine seeing someone you love lying on their back with the bottom half of their leg dangling, held on by their skin, and a leg bone sticking out four or five inches.
Think how shook you would be.
And then imagine having to immediately start playing a basketball game for the right to go to the Final Four.
“We won this for him,” Pitino said. “We were all choked up with emotion for him. We’ll get him back to normal. We’ve got great doctors, great trainers. We talked about it every timeout, `Get Kevin home.”‘
At this point, it’s not surprising to see Adrian Peterson rip off a 70 yard touchdown run while barreling over three defenders or to see LeBron James dribble through a defense before nearly hitting his head on the rim while dunking over a seven-footer.
But that doesn’t make those accomplishments any less impressive.
The same should be the case here.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.