Rick Pitino labels Kevin Ware’s injury ‘most difficult moment’ of his coaching career

 

NATIONAL CHAMPION --- Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino (center) speaks with South Florida coach Stan Heath (left) and Central Florida coach Donnie Jones Wednesday morning during the American Athletic Conference Media Day festivities in FedExForum. Pitino lead the Cardinals to their third national title last year. (Photo by Andre Johnson)

NATIONAL CHAMPION — Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino (center) speaks with South Florida coach Stan Heath (left) and Central Florida coach Donnie Jones Wednesday morning during the American Athletic Conference Media Day festivities in FedExForum. Pitino lead the Cardinals to their third national title last year. (Photo by Andre Johnson)

Six months removed from having led the school to its third national championship, Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino said during Wednesday’s inaugural American Athletic Conference Media Day in FedExForum that what he deemed mostly intriguing about last year’s title run was how the nation rallied around his program during what he describes as the “most difficult moment” of a coaching career that spans nearly four decades.

Pitino was referring to the horrific injury sustained by then-sophomore guard Kevin Ware, who fractured his right leg on national television against Duke in the Elite Eight game while trying to block a three-point attempt by Tyler Thorton, but landed awkwardly.

Coaches and players from both teams as well as a majority of the Lucas Oil Stadium crowd were visibly bewildered by Ware’s injury. Pitino, witnessing Ware lay motionless on the court, was overcome by emotions while doctors tended to the fallen player with just over six minutes remaining in the first half. Fortunately for the Cardinals, they managed to pull together on behalf of Ware, a Bronx, N. Y. native who relocated to the Atlanta area to play high school ball. Louisville went on to defeat Duke to seize to its second consecutive Final Four berth, ironically in Atlanta, where they edged Michigan, 82-76, in the national title game as Ware witnessed it all unfold behind the Cardinals’ bench.

“I think it was a very difficult thing to look at, being up close and personal,” Pitino told MemphiSport. “And then it was very difficult to see the emotion of your basketball players when that happened. But I think obviously I have a lot to be proud of personally. I was so proud for the emotion and love my team showed for Kevin and vice versa and the courage he showed. I think it was a great story because of the spontaneous emotions of both parties.”

Although Louisville, which led, 35-32, at the half against Duke, outscored the Blue Devils, 50-31, in the second half and coasted to an 85-63 victory to advance to the national semifinals, Pitino said it wasn’t until after he visited Ware at a nearby Indianapolis hospital and got a positive prognosis from doctors that he finally was able to savor what had transpired against Duke.

“I was relieved because when I went to the hospital that night, the doctor said, ‘We have 48 hours to get by the infection and he will make a full recovery,’” Pitino explained. “When that was told to me, I was able to relish in the fact that we were going to another Final Four.”

A number of current and former professional athletes reached out to Ware to offer their support

Louisville forward Luke Hancock was among those who confronted teammate Kevin Ware after his gruesome leg injury in the Elite Eight game against Duke in March. (Getty Images photo)

Louisville forward Luke Hancock was among those who consoled teammate Kevin Ware after his gruesome leg injury in the Elite Eight game against Duke in March. (Getty Images photo)

and well wishes in the aftermath of his freak injury. Surprisingly, months before the Cardinals were scheduled to visit the White House to commemorate their third NCAA crown with President Obama, Ware fielded a phone call Michelle Obama.

As for when the 6-foot-4 Ware — who reportedly was seen dunking a basketball six months after his gruesome injury — will return to full drills, that still remains unclear, Pitino said. The Cardinals begin practice this week and open defense of their national title Nov. 9 against the College of Charleston in the Hall of Fame Classic. Louisville, which finished 35-5 last year, is ranked as high as No. 2 in several preseason polls, most notably the Associated Press Top 25.

“I really don’t know how to answer that because he’s training…retraining his mind and his leg to get back on the basketball court,” said Pitino, when asked if there is a timetable for Ware’s return. “I think the physical (aspect) is going to be easier than the psychological. But Kevin’s a pretty mentally tough kid. I don’t think it’s a major problem. But we’re really about a month away from seeing him compete.”

Also on Wednesday, Pitino said he is pleased that Louisville and Memphis will resume playing twice a year for the first time since the 2004-2005 campaign when the schools were members of Conference USA. Memphis comes to the American from C-USA. The Cardinals became an AAC entrant after spending the past eight years in the Big East.

“We’re going to continue to play Memphis because it is our longest and one of our best rivalries,” said Pitino, who was named to the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame the same day the Cardinals won the national title. It’s a great city. I thought it was a natural to have the (AAC) tournament here, which we’re very excited about. Memphis, I think, has top 10 fan support in the United States. And it’s great to continue our long relationship.”

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

2012 M Awards: Favorite Local Sports Twitter

This is getting ridiculous. Here, Gary. Take another one. We get it. People like you. This is public service announcement for all other sports talk shows. Step up your game. Seriously. Body Parts. Blood everywhere. Gary is killing you.

@GaryParrishCBSFirst Place: 43.07%
@aa000G9Second Place: 28.47%
@jon_roserThird Place: 8.03%

Best song to listen to while contemplating this category… Killing in the Name by Rage Against the Machine. So what do you think, Memphis? Did you get it right? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

The 2012 M Award Winners

Favorite Concessions: FedExForum
Favorite Place To Tailgate: Tiger Lane
Favorite Sporting Venue: FedExForum
Favorite Race: St. Jude Marathon
Best Game: Grizzlies Game 6 Win
Most Memorable Moment: University of Memphis Gets Invitation to the Big East
Favorite Annual Event: Memphis Madness
Moment We Would Most Like To Forget: Grizzlies Game 1 Collapse to the Clippers
Best Offbeat Moment: Josh Pastner Accidentally Tweeting Out “Tony Parker”
Best Musical Performance: Ellen, St. Jude Patient, Singing the National Anthem at a Grizzlies Game
Best Place To Stock Up For The Big Game: Kroger
Best Local Sports Bar/Restaurant: Huey’s
Best National Sports Bar/Restaurant: Buffalo Wild Wings
Best Place To Eat Before/After The Game: Huey’s
Best Place To Take The Team After A Victory: Memphis Pizza Cafe
Best Place To Play Cards: Horseshoe Casino and Hotel
Best Golf Course: TPC Southwind
Favorite Golf Store: Edwin Watts Golf
Favorite Sporting Goods Store: Dick’s Sporting Goods
Favorite Sports Apparel Store: Tiger Bookstore
Favorite Workout Facility: YMCA
Favorite Healthy Store: Whole Foods Market
Favorite Place To Spend A Nice Afternoon: The Memphis Zoo
Favorite Bike Shop: Outdoors, Inc
Favorite Local Sports Radio Personality: Gary Parrish, Gary Parrish Show
Favorite Local Sports Radio Program: The Gary Parrish Show with Geoff Calkins
Favorite Sports Talk Radio Segment: Harvard/Horn Lake Trivia, Gary Parrish Show
Favorite Local TV Sports Personality: Geoff Calkins, Sports Files
Best Sports Website: memphisroar.com
Best Fantasy Sports Twitter: @FantasyLapides
Best Local Sports Twitter: @GaryParrishCBS
Best Hair: Gary Parrish

Check back here daily in the month of July for a new winner in MemphiSport’s annual celebration of the best in Memphis sports.