By Noah Allison–
If you could, think back to the beginning of the basketball season. What player did you think would have the biggest impact on the team? If I had told you we were going to win it all, would you think it would be because of Russ, Gorgui, Peyton or Chane? Did anybody think that it would be No. 5, the quiet sophomore Kevin Ware who would propel Louisville from being a talented team to national champions?
Ware didn’t do much his freshman year; he averaged just over five minutes of playing time and scored 20 points throughout the whole season. The start of his sophomore year wasn’t much better; he was an unpolished able-bodied defender, who came in for minutes at a time when Russ and Peyton were in foul trouble or in Pitino trouble.
Ware demonstrated his value early on because of Louisville’s style of play. Having one of the fastest most turnover oriented backcourts in the country means that having a third guard for the rotation was the only way for Louisville’s game to work, a conditioned deep team is the only kind that can play the type of defense Louisville played this year. Ware is one of the most introverted members on the team and his quiet demeanor and quiet style of play didn’t gain him much notice, but Ware was doing his part in making the team who they were.
When he was in the game, you couldn’t ask for many if any points out of him, but you didn’t have to be worried about a loss on the defensive end with Ware. His 6-foot-2-inch athletic frame and his defensive oriented mentality made him as good of a defender as there was on the team.
He played a considerable amount of minutes throughout the Cardinals 16-4 start, but his impact and importance on the team wasn’t made evident until his suspension of the Big East matchup at home with Pittsburgh. A game that had its fare share of appearances from Tim Henderson and “Dark Slime,” or Michael Baffour, had Card Nation realizing that there isn’t anybody they want coming in off the bench other than Kevin Ware. The 64-61 victory that was edged out validated the importance of Wares minutes, and made me realize that without Kevin Ware, the Cardinals would not have won the national championship.
It was his first game back from that suspension that I first met Kevin, it was in the locker room after the victory over St. John’s. This postgame was no different than any other one, reporters going from locker to locker with 10 to 12 guys crowded around either Peyton Siva or Russ Smith and at least three to four guys at every other person. But there was Kevin Ware, being the same introverted player that he is when in games. He was sitting alone at his locker looking around at the room of reporters talking to his teammates while he sat back and iced his knees.
I hadn’t seen him get talked to all year so I decided to just the spend the whole postgame interviewing Kevin Ware and figuring out who is this guy that is secretly so important to this team. I was nervous at first; he seems so quiet I wasn’t sure if it would be uncomfortable and if he was going to be talking at a whisper, if he even talked to me at all. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Kevin Ware gave one of the best interviews I had ever been a part of; it wasn’t that he was excited to do an interview. He was just being himself and telling me about himself. Ware told me about moving from New York City to his new quiet home outside of Atlanta. He talked about his role on the team and he talked a little bit about his suspension, just saying that Pitino really gave him a wake up call, and that game he missed against Pittsburgh made him realize how great of an opportunity he has been given at Louisville and that he was going to take advantage of it.
After that Pittsburgh game Kevin Ware didn’t just become a new man, he was starting to become a new player. He played 21 minutes and hit his first three of the season in the USF game that followed that interview with him, and he kept having more important performances. During the important 58-53 win at Syracuse Ware played 24 minutes and had a three to go with his eight points. He played much of the game in Peyton Siva’s place because quite frankly that day he was playing better basketball than the senior leader.
By the time the tournament came, Kevin Ware wasn’t the player he was at the beginning of the year, he had stepped up big in big games and had proven that he was very much a part of the reason why the No. 1 overall seed Louisville Cardinals were as dominant as they were. With how good the starting backcourt was, it was truly unfair for opponents than an equally good guard was now coming in off the bench for either Siva or Smith.
He had a career-high 12 points in the Sweet Sixteen matchup over Oregon. By this point he was one of the most in demand players to talk to in the locker room and reporters flooded him the whole post game. He was truly emerging as a player that took us from being a team incredible top end talent, to a team that is deep enough to win it all.
Two days later, we played Duke. Kevin Ware broke his leg. and not much description of that scene is necessary. The world was watching Kevin have to deal with it, the world was watching the team struggle to deal with it and Card Nation looked on in horror. But on the silent TV screen you could see Kevin on the ground, holding his teammates hands, talking to them. He told them: “Win the game!” That’s what they did, and the rest is history. We won it for Kevin; he is an inspiration beyond all comprehension to so many people now. His ability to remain selfless during the scariest moment of his life and still think about the team was exactly why we were able to win it all.
Kevin Ware could have been what put us over the top to win it with him, but when he went down the team had a reason to be inspired, to play for so much more than to win a meaningful game. It turned out to be true; this team would not have won a national championship without Kevin Ware. He was the last man standing to cut down the nets in his hometown, and without a doubt in any Cardinal’s heart. Kevin Ware will be on that court again, and when he is the rest of the country better watch out for No. 5.
Photo by Austin Lassell/The Louisville Cardinal