University of Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware said he didn't think his team would have made it to the Final Four if he didn't reassure his teammates and coaches that he was going to be OK after his leg fractured during Louisville's game against Duke Sunday night.
"I said it probably 15 times, 'Coach, I'm going to be good, you just got to win this game,'" he told ESPN's Rece Davis today in his first interview since the injury.
Ware was soft-spoken and emotional as he rehashed the details of his freak accident on the court. During the game, the 6-foot-2 sophomore guard sustained a gruesome open leg fracture where his leg appeared to snap in half. He was taken off the court and into surgery at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis Sunday night.
"It was one of those things where I couldn't believe it. I honestly didn't feel the pain. It was more a shock," Ware said.
Ware said he didn't realize at first what had happened until he saw his coach Rick Pitino's face as he ran out on the court to help him.
"He went to help me up, he glanced at my leg and his eyes got huge," Ware said. "I looked down at my leg and it was just automatic shock."
Pitino said the hardest thing to do was get his players motivated and focused to win after Ware was escorted off the court.
"We all know he's from Atlanta. Let's get him back there, let's get him home," he said to his players.
Ware's team soldiered on and beat Duke 85-63 in the Midwest Regional at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for a spot in the Final Four.
Pitino told Davis that his players were hesitant to celebrate their victory against Duke until they knew Ware was going to recover.
Ware, who was released from the hospital on Tuesday, said he got the go-ahead by doctors to fly to Atlanta, his hometown, to see Louisville play Wichita State on Saturday.
"I'm probably going to be more nervous than the rest of them," he said.
Ware said he didn't have any words of wisdom for his teammates for the upcoming game, but said his presence there would be all the motivation they needed to beat Wichita State.
"I don't think I have to tell them anything honestly," he said in a press conference later. "I think they'll just look over to the bench and see me sitting there."
In the meantime, Ware's teammates got him a pit bull, whom they named Scar, to keep him busy.
Dr. Walter Virkus, director of orthopedic trauma at Methodist Hospital where Ware underwent surgery, said that patients who sustain tibia fractures typically take anywhere from three to ten months to make a full recovery.
Virkus could not comment specifically on Ware's fracture, but said that tibia fractures were more common as a result of car accidents or falls from a significant height. He said that when they do happen with sports injuries, the bone is broken in fewer places and there's less of a risk for contamination to the open wound.
He said Ware would be at an advantage during his rehabilitation because was an "elite athlete."
Pitino said that when he first visited Ware in the hospital, he told the quiet player that he was proud of him.
"The reason Kevin Ware acted that way was he understood, Louisville first," he said.
"I don't know too many people with their bone sticking out of their leg who would have thought of the team. That just speaks so high of you as a person," Pitino said he told Ware.
Ware broke down in tears when he recounted waking up in the hospital with the trophy at his bedside, and said it "meant everything" to him.
But Ware has not yet seen the replay of his injury that had basketball fans glued the television screen, and has no plans to do so, he said.
"That's just one of those things that I never want to see... You couldn't pay me all the money in the world to see it," Ware said.
Ware said that if he watched the video, it might prove to be a distraction that could hold him back during his recovery process.
"Minor setback, for a major comeback," he tweeted Tuesday.
"The most important thing to me is he's going to be fine again someday, he's going to play basketball again," Pitino said. "We'll miss him as a basketball player, but he'll be there with us."
Ware said the fracture "showed him everything" about what it meant to be part of a team, and said that the experience showed that his fellow players were his family.
"Those guys mean everything to me. That's why I put my injury on hold during the game," he said. "It's not about me. It's never just about myself."
Ware told Davis his biggest concern going forward his full recovery. He said he is walking with his crutches every chance with he gets.
"It's going to take a lot of rehab, and a lot of patience," he said. "I've never been a patience kind of guy, but I have to learn obviously and that's what I'm going to do."
"This is just one obstacle that can't keep me down," Ware said.