Commentary

Ware is talk of the team and town

Louisville players do an admirable job dealing with their teammate's injury

Updated: April 5, 2013, 7:18 PM ET
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- Kevin Ware was everywhere and nowhere on Friday afternoon.

The placard bearing his name, meant to hang above his locker stall, instead was stuck on a wall between the lockers and refrigerator, right above a wheelchair. Team manager Travis Hackert was sitting in the chair on Friday morning, mostly because Ware wasn't around. "He was sitting right here yesterday,'' Hackert said of the wheelchair. "He loved it.''

The injured Cardinal and the talk of this Final Four was back in the team hotel, finally crashed out from a whirlwind media tour that included about every major television network and an appearance reading David Letterman's Top Ten -- No. 8: Hey look, my tibia!

Ware was supposed to take part in Louisville's media session with his best friend, Chane Behanan, for what could have been a nice little Abbott and Costello routine, but Ware practically fell asleep in his dinner the night before and the team medical staff tucked him in for the day.

[+] EnlargeLouisville Cardinals fans
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsFans in Atlanta on Friday show they haven't forgotten about Kevin Ware.

Still, on the eve of Louisville's Final Four matchup with Wichita State, Ware remained the talk of the team and the talk of the town, and will no doubt remain so when the Cards play Saturday night and Ware, who will be on the bench, will again be everywhere. New York Knicks star Amare Stoudemire donated 1,000 Kevin Ware "big heads" for the Louisville student section (although, according to Louisville sports information director Kenny Klein, these will be more along the lines of "'medium heads," per NCAA signage rules).

It's a strange spot for the Cardinals, who have fed off their fallen teammate as an inspiration but now need to make sure all the attention doesn't become a distraction.

"We don't feel sorry for Kevin because Kevin doesn't feel sorry for Kevin,'' said Montrezl Harrell. "Kevin's a fighter.''

Harrell should know. He and Behanan are Ware's closest friends on the Louisville team. The two, like everyone on the Cardinals, have done an admirable job of toeing the line between honoring Ware yet treating him like nothing terribly remarkable has happened, even though something terrible has happened.

They've followed their friend's lead on that, collecting themselves after their gut-wrenchingly emotional reactions to the injury to find a way to keep him close without overburdening themselves with the pressure of playing for him.

Harrell, Ware's roommate on the road, said the two haven't shared too many heart-to-hearts since arriving in Atlanta. In their hotel room, the only sign that anything is different is the ice/compression machine Ware has to use on his surgically repaired leg and the gear splayed across his bed for elevation. If he's in pain, his roommate hasn't seen it.

"Nope, not at all,'' Harrell said.

[+] EnlargeChane Behanan
Brian Spurlock-/USA TODAY SportsChane Behanan held Ware's jersey after the Cardinals won the Midwest Regional final.

Asked if Ware expects his roommate to wait on him, Harrell laughed.

"Nah, he's not like that,'' he said. "But I made sure he knew whatever he needed, I'd do it for him.''

The two first crossed paths, as most college basketball players do in today's smaller world, on the summer-league courts. They were opponents then, though teammates during one brief camp.

When Harrell, a freshman, came on his official visit to Louisville, the sophomore Ware served as his host.

"He just told me how Louisville would be,'' Harrell said. "We've been friends ever since.''

Harrell and Ware, at least, seem more like kindred spirits. Harrell tucked himself into a corner behind a whiteboard in the Cardinals' locker room on Friday, in keeping with what was before this week, at least, Ware's more unassuming personality.

Behanan, meantime, held court leaning against a door frame.

If there is a Louisville odd couple, it is Behanan and Ware.

Behanan is the big personality. He giddily stalked the postgame celebration with Ware's jersey held aloft after the Midwest Regional ended, likening the pair's friendship to "peanut butter and jelly."

Ware and Behanan came to Louisville together, the former from Atlanta by way of the Bronx, the latter from Cincinnati. They connected over the rough neighborhoods they called home and, more, fed off their opposing personalities.

"He's more antisocial, quiet,'' Behanan said. "I'm more a people person. I get to know a lot of people. A lot of people like me. He's the opposite, just kick back and laid back. But that's something I like about him.''

Behanan perhaps was more devastated by Ware's injury than anyone on the Louisville team. He quite literally crumbled to the floor after witnessing it, his back heaving with sobs. In the locker room after beating Duke, he waffled between matter of fact and emotional trying to recount how he felt in the moment, how he felt with the victory.

But now, having reconnected with Ware, Behanan found a way to channel it all. Behanan has taken to signing his autographs with a "KW #5" and plans to ink some sort of testimony to Ware on his sneakers for game time.

"He can't sign anything right now, so I decided to put his name with mine,'' Behanan.

[+] EnlargeKevin Ware
Aaron Borton/USA TODAY SportsWare, with his mother Lisa Junior, answers questions in Louisville on Wednesday.

The lost irony in all of this is that since Ware's injury, he's sort of found his inner Behanan. The new media darling has willingly answered any and all questions, sitting down for more press conferences this week than his able-bodied teammates.

He's fielded phone calls from everyone from Barack Obama to Charles Barkley and handled it all like he was born to talk.

"At dinner last night, he was just dozing off,'' Behanan said. "I told him, all this fame, it's hard work.''

But the kicker had to be the Letterman performance -- not just because he was on David Letterman but also because he was able to parody his own gruesome injury.

It was the perfect coda for a strange week, taking Ware from the horrors and fear of the earlier part of the week to the joy and peace of the end.

Kevin Ware is still everywhere as this Final Four prepares to tip off, but his teammates finally have put it all in its proper place.

Dana O'Neil | email

College Basketball

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