When Kevin Ware sank a 3-pointer from the right corner on his first shot attempt since fracturing his right leg in horrific fashion last March, he was as surprised as anyone to see the ball fall through the rim.
"I honestly thought I would air-ball my first shot," Ware told reporters in Louisville after the game. "When it went in, everything went back to normal."
Ware's surprise return turned Louisville's otherwise mundane 90-61 exhibition victory over Pikeville into a celebration of all he has accomplished since his gruesome injury against Duke in the Elite Eight. The Louisville crowd gave Ware his first standing ovation when he checked into the game with 13:49 remaining in the second half, cheered again every time he touched the ball and stood and roared for nearly a minute when he sank his 3-pointer.
In 10 minutes of playing time, Ware finished with six points on 1 of 3 shooting from the field and 3 of 4 shooting from the free throw line. He also grabbed four rebounds and pronounced himself fit and ready to contribute off the bench for the Cardinals in their season opener against College of Charleston on Saturday.
"Basketball-wise I feel like myself," Ware said. "My speed and everything, jumping-wise, feels back to normal. I feel fine."
Ware's return was an emotional moment because his bravery after his injury struck a chord with fans across the country.
As he lay in front of the Louisville bench last March with his right leg broken so badly that the bone was protruding from the skin, Ware called his teammates over and told them not to worry about him and to go win the game. Ware later became a rallying cry for his team and an instant celebrity nationally as the Cardinals went on to rout Duke in the Elite Eight and defeat Wichita State and Michigan in Atlanta to capture the national championship.
Since Ware began rehabbing soon after the Final Four, the question has been when he would be spry enough to make his return. Louisville coach Rick Pitino initially gave a cautious timetable of mid-December, but Ware has practiced well enough that Pitino decided Tuesday night that he wanted to get the junior into the following night's game.
"I wanted to get him some minutes just to get over the jitters of being back just in case we used him against Charleston," Pitino told reporters in Louisville. "He's been practicing full bore. I just wanted to see him run around, just run and jump and get some confidence."
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