ATLANTA — Louisville’s Kevin Ware was given the day off Friday so he would be well rested for Saturday’s Final Four semifinal against Wichita State.
He won’t be playing. He’ll be the guy sitting on the bench with a cast on his broken leg.
You won’t be able to miss him. Be assured, CBS won’t let you.
His teammates also will be well aware of his presence.
“We know what a blessing it will be just to have him sitting there,” Louisville guard Russ Smith said. “If you get tired, you can look over at him and dig deep for more because you know how much he wants to be out there.”
Ware is on the mend after shattering his leg in gruesome fashion shortly before halftime of the Elite Eight game with Duke last Sunday.
As he lay there with a compound fracture in his lower right leg, he calmly told his distraught teammates gathered around him, “Just win the game.”
The Cardinals did just that, turning a close game into an 85-63 rout. And now Louisville is continuing that rallying cry around Ware, a valuable reserve for the Cardinals’ talented but thin backcourt.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino hasn’t missed many chances to remind anyone who will listen the emotional boost that Ware has given the team. His players have picked up on the message and have repeated it regularly this week.
The tournament’s overall top seed had plenty of support before Ware was injured. But the response from the Louisville players and Pitino seems to have made them a sentimental favorite on the national level – even though the No. 9-seeded Shockers are trying to make history by being the lowest-seeded team to reach the championship game.
“Seeing Kevin over there wants to make us pull together even harder,” forward Chane Behanan said. “Kevin was playing his best basketball of the season when he got hurt. We are losing a lot.”
Earlier this week, Ware said he had no plans to say anything to the team because he thought just by “looking over and seeing me on the bench.… We don’t need a lot of motivation. We’re in the Final Four.”
Ware, a reserved sort, has been kept busy this week doing numerous interviews about the injury.
He was even on the “Late Show with David Letterman” on Thursday via satellite from Atlanta and read David Letterman’s top-10 list on what his first thoughts were when he broke his leg.
“Ouch!” made the list.
Ware has easily become the most-well known player in the Final Four, overshadowing those who are playing. He’s taken calls from Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama.
“I’m just glad to know Kevin Ware even more now because he’s the most famous person I know,” Louisville point guard Peyton Siva said.
But Ware was so worn out by Thursday evening he couldn’t make it through the team dinner, Louisville spokesman Kenny Klein said. By a doctor’s order, he remained in his hotel room Friday and skipped a scheduled media interview.
“We wanted him to be able to have a great experience at the game,” Klein said.
The question is what kind of experience will the Cardinals who do play have? They’ve been here before. Just last year, in fact.
That’s when they lost in the semifinals to Kentucky, which went on to defeat Kansas for the national championship.
“When you’re the No. 1 of the No. 1 seeds, there’s lots of pressure,” Pitino said. “Last year we didn’t feel any pressure to get here.”
Ware also didn’t play in last year’s Final Four. He was playing sparingly at the time and rode the bench for the Kentucky game.
He has the same seat this year. But a much different role