Then he reminded everyone at a Wednesday afternoon press conference that the stakes for his teammates and himself are still high. “Our goals are still the same,” he said. “I still want to win a national championship.”
That goal will be tested this weekend as both UofL’s men’s and women’s basketball teams compete in their respective Final Four tournaments. The men will face ninth-seeded Wichita State on Saturday and the women will play second-seeded University of California-Berkeley, on Sunday, both for a chance to compete for the national championship early next week.
During the press conference, UofL Athletics Director Tom Jurich credited both the coaching staffs and student athletes for their successes this season. He pointed out coach Rick Pitino’s ability to get his team to regroup in the aftermath of Ware’s injury. “That was leadership at its finest,” Jurich said.
Ware broke his right leg in the Midwest Regional Championship Sunday in Indianapolis and was rushed to Methodist Hospital. The gruesome injury stunned his teammates, fans and television viewers. As he was being treated initially on the court, he encouraged his teammates to win the game. Pitino regrouped the team, and led them to an 85-63 win in the regional final.
“I think it was an incredible display of emotions from his teammates and himself with a lot at stake,” Pitino said. Released from the hospital Tuesday afternoon, Ware immediately came to campus after he arrived in Louisville to meet with his teammates.
Ware’s story has drawn international attention and some celebrity attention nationally. He’s tweeted with NBA player Kobe Bryant and received a phone call from First Lady Michelle Obama since Sunday. “I’m a quiet guy, so a lot of this is new to me,” Ware said, adding that he’s thankful for all of the thoughts and well wishes he’s received.
He said Wednesday that he’s uncertain of his total recovery and rehabilitation time and that he adopted a pit bull named Scar to help him pass the time during recovery.
Athletics expects Ware to travel to his hometown of Atlanta for the Final Four, and if all goes perfectly, to help his teammates cut down the nets. Pitino said his team will work to overcome Ware’s absence on the court by raising expectations for other players.
“You don’t get to this stage very much. You’ve got to have a very good basketball team to get to the Final Four,” Pitino said. “We know Wichita State can beat us.”
Women’s basketball coach Jeff Walz also spoke at the media conference and said he’ll continue to push his players to play like they have nothing to lose as they approach their surprise appearance in this weekend’s Final Four in New Orleans.
“Nobody expected us to be here and that’s the fun part about it,” Walz said, adding later: “We like to spoil some things. I think it took everybody by surprise.” The women’s team beat the defending national champions in the Sweet Sixteen and two-seeded Tennessee in the Elite Eight. His team is the lowest seeded of the remaining teams.
“Let’s go out – we’ve nothing to lose – and have fun.”