With dozens of cameras pointed in his direction, Ware had a net he snipped from one of the baskets draped around his neck, a Louisville national title baseball cap on backwards. He was the center of attention, but not because of his play.
Ware had suffered a gruesome compound fracture of his leg during Louisville’s Elite Eight game against Duke just one week before the Final Four. His teammates rallied around him and “Win 4 Ware” became the Cardinals’ motto.
He was the story of the Final Four with tweets of encouragement from LeBron James and other celebrities, a visit on David Letterman’s late night show to read a top 10 list and hundreds of media requests.
Ware has said in multiple interviews since the incident that he didn’t want it to define who he was and that in part was a reason he left Louisville after last season, transferring to Georgia State.
Now, two years after the injury Ware will get a chance to rewrite his story as he’s helped lead Panthers into the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Ware said on the ESPN telecast after scoring 18 points and being named MVP after Georgia State’s 38-36 win over Georgia Southern in the Sun Belt title game on Sunday in New Orleans.
Ware, who was Bing’s fourth-most searched athlete in 2013, is a redshirt junior for the Panthers. He received a waiver from the NCAA to be able to play right away this season after he left Louisville. He has another year of eligibility.
And this is a chance he had hoped to be able to get. Georgia State (24-9) is making its third trip to the NCAA and first since 2001. The No. 14 seed Panthers will Baylor on Thursday in Jacksonville, Fla.
“It feels great,” Ware said in the press conference after the win over Georgia Southern. “It’s a much better feeling to win with [my team]. It’s been a long year. We had our ups and downs, but we stayed together.”
It’s been a long two years for Ware.
With Louisville as the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament in ’13, Ware had become a key contributor off the bench for the Cardinals. He scored a season-high 11 points in the Sweet 16 victory over Oregon in Indianapolis.
But on March 31, 2013, Ware went down with the gruesome injury in the first half against Duke. He went to contest a three-pointer and came down on his leg, with is snapping in front of the Louisville bench.
Ware became one of the most recognized faces in sports and the Cardinals’ won the NCAA title the next week. He returned from the injury seven months later, but was really never the same at U of L.
He hit his first three-point attempt in an exhibition game but had some off the court issues arise and the U of L training staff shut him down after just nine games. He was accidently kicked in the Missouri State game in the leg and started to show a limp.
Ware stopped practicing with the team in January and the school announced that he would seek a medical redshirt. Two days after the Cardinals lost to Kentucky in the NCAA Sweet 16 game – on the same floor Ware was injured – he announced he was leaving the program and Louisville coach Rick Pitino wished him “Godspeed.”
After picking Georgia State to be closer to home, Ware has played in 33 games and started 14 for the Panthers. He’s averaging 7.7 points and 3.2 rebounds a game.
But more importantly he’s known as a basketball player and not the guy who suffered the broken leg on national television.
Ware told Sports Illustrated earlier this year that even going out in public in Louisville was hard saying, “It got annoying after a while,” about his stardom.
Now, Ware is averaging 28.4 minutes a game and will get a chance to go back to the NCAA Tournament, only this time the cameras will be watching him play.
“You don’t think you are going to be back in the tournament after an injury like I had,” he said after the game on Sunday. “I am so appreciative of these guys taking me in and believing in me. I’m just so appreciative.
“This is just like a dream come true.”