Sports department for the student run radio station 90.3 WRST at UW-Oshkosh
Every once in a while, something so big occurs in the sports world that everything seems to stop for a minute. For the Silent Generation, it was Lou Gehrig’s speech. For the Baby Boomers, it was the Miracle on Ice. For Generation X, it was the death of Len Bias. These events have the “JFK Effect”. Ask anyone around, and they could probably tell you where they were when it happened. It’s obviously different in terms of significance, but it’s not far off in terms of breathlessness and shock.
I was in my car driving south on Highway 41 yesterday when Kevin Ware went down with one of the most gruesome leg injuries that I’ve ever seen, not only on a basketball court, but maybe in any sports arena. I had been listening to Kevin Kugler give his typical upbeat, descriptive play by play of the Duke/Louisville Regional Final game. At a media timeout, I chose not to listen to the advertisements. Instead, I flipped over to my CD player and took about a three minute break to jam out to Taylor Swift’s “22”. Because, I mean, why not? When the song came to an end, I flipped back to the game, and I know immediately that something was not right.
Kugler’s tone was soft. I mean, dangerously soft. The arena sounded silent. I heard the words “stretcher” and “crying”. My first thought was a head injury. However, as I listened, they kept talking about his leg. I sort of shook it off, thinking it couldn’t be too shocking or severe if it was a leg injury. I’ve seen standard ACL tears before. And I’ve seen gruesome ACL tears before (see: Shaun Livingston and Marcus Lattimore). Both of those were scary, but nothing that would cause this type of a stir. So needless to say, I was confused about why the tone in Kugler’s voice had dropped so far and why the energy had seemingly been sucked out of Lucas Oil Stadium.
But then I pulled over to check out Twitter. Every single tweet in my timeline was Ware-related. And I could literally sense the concern in every 140 characters. Still, I didn’t completely understand it.
But then, I saw it. Forget Lattimore, Livingston, Bogut, and Butch. This was worse than all of them. Watching it from the angle from behind is just jawdropping. I’ve never seen anything like it.
And watching the scene around the court… The Louisville bench screaming in shock as they realized what had happened. Russ Smith and Peyton Siva falling to the floor in tears. Rick Pitino nearly vomiting at the sight. And the opposition… Tyler Thornton forcing himself to look away. Coach K standing motionless for a solid minute. And of course, the tone in Kevin Kugler’s voice. I’ll never forget that.
The best comparison I can think of is Joe Theismann, who also suffered from a compound fracture when he played for the Redskins. This was something different.
The scariest part about it was that it was such an ordinary play. Basketball players close out like that on every possession of every game at every level. What I’ve been trying to wrap my head around is how Ware could possibly have suffered such a gruesome injury on such a mundane play. My guess would be that it takes an extraordinary amount of force for a bone to shatter that badly and to pop so far out through the skin. The fact that it seemed so easy, the fact that it happened so quickly… What is that going to do to the mindset of every college basketball player?
The Ware injury might not join the same category as Gehrig, the Miracle on Ice, or the death of Bias, but it’s close. My guess is that in ten years, if you ask any college basketball fan, they might not remember who eventually wins this National Championship, but they’ll sure as hell remember the name Kevin Ware. Thoughts and prayers to him as he goes through the rehab process.
And on that note, let’s move to a more positive subject, THE FINAL FOUR.
Here are four final keys (one for each team) to the college basketball season...
For Michigan it’s simple: Hit shots from the outside. The Wolverines have the perfect pieces to finally solve this Syracuse zone, which has been brilliant throughout the tournament. Trey Burke directing traffic at the top. Nik Staulkas and Tim Hardaway Jr. spotting up on the wings. Glen Robinson III in the high post and Mitch McGary down low. I expect Michigan to be able to do a little bit of damage with high/low action, but still, the key is to make shots. They got a little bit of practice against a zone in the Regional Final against Florida on Sunday (and Staulkas absolutely lit it up), but that zone isn’t nearly as tough as what the Wolverines will see against the Orange on Saturday. Hit shots and win the game. It’s as simple as that.
For Syracuse, the key is to defend the perimeter. The 2-3 zone has been staggeringly good. In four Tournament games so far, teams have made just 61 field goals against the Orange (WOW!) while turning it over 67 times (WOW-ER!). Still, it can all be undone if Michigan hits three-pointers, which the Wolverines are more than capable of. Stretch that zone and limit ball rotation, and Syracuse will have control.
Wichita State can’t get caught up in the Kevin Ware drama. That devastating injury propelled Louisville to victory on Sunday. And while it was a heroic effort by the Cardinals, I can’t shake the feeling that Duke let up a bit because it felt sorry for the Cardinals. This is going to be a huge story all week, and the Shockers can’t focus on it. They just need to think basketball, basketball, basketball.
Louisville needs to take care of the basketball. For as talented and well-coached as the Cardinals are, they can be a little erratic at times. Louisville ranked 113th with 12.5 turnovers per game. Wichita State’s motto is “play angry”, and the Shockers do just that. Lost amongst all the other story lines at the Final Four is the most obvious one: the fact that there’s a nine seed in the Final Four. The Shockers certainly won’t forget that, though. They cling to that underdog mentality, and they will come out fierce, both offensively and defensively, I can promise you that. Louisville needs to be prepared.
World of Sports…
Baseball season is upon us and it started off with a BANG for the Milwaukee Brewers: a walk-off, extra inning victory over the Colorado Rockies at Miller Park. And John Axford, of course, set up that dramatic finish with his first blown save of 2013. My guess: He won’t be in the closer’s role by June. Not that that’s a terribly bold prediction.
Brandon Kinnard, Titan TV Sports Director