Adam Himmelsbach, USA TODAY Sports
April 4, 2013
(Photo: Brian Spurlock, USA TODAY Sports)
When Louisville forward Luke Hancock saw Kevin Ware lying near the sideline with a shattered right leg, he initially recoiled like his teammates. Some Cardinals were vomiting, others were crying and inconsolable.
But then Hancock thought back to last summer, when he suffered a gruesome shoulder injury in a pickup game. He remembered how others were aghast. He remembered how former Louisville guard Andre McGee was the only one to rush to his side, to rush him to the hospital. He remembered how much that had meant.
So as Ware lay there in the first half of the Cardinals' NCAA tournament victory over Duke on Sunday, scared and alone and stunned, Hancock ran to him. He held Ware's hand and told him they would get through this together. He told Ware he would say a prayer for him.
Ware didn't respond at first, because he was in shock. Hancock took a deep breath, closed his eyes, clenched Ware's hand and started the prayer.
"Lord, watch over us and let Kevin be OK during this tough time," he began. "The Lord does everything for a reason, and He will get us through this."
Hancock said he did all he could to keep from breaking down, to keep tears from falling onto his fallen teammate. He found out later that Ware also was trying not to cry, trying to stay strong for him.
Hancock gently patted Ware's chest several times, the two of them together in front of 34,657 fans in Lucas Oil Stadium and millions of horrified TV viewers.
"I wouldn't want to be alone in that situation, and I don't think he wanted to be alone," Hancock said, sitting in a small office at the team's training facility Wednesday as Ware held a news conference upstairs. "I just thought if I could talk to him and tell him he'll be all right, it might help."
Luke Hancock on Kevin Ware: "I just thought he needed someone by his side."
It helped more than Hancock realized, more than he could imagine. Ware said that before Hancock arrived, he was scared. After Hancock touched him and calmed him, he knew he would be fine.
Before long the other Cardinals were there and Ware was enveloped in a sea of support. His teammates clenched his forearms and held him tight. But that first moment was the most important moment.
"Seeing Luke there," Ware said, "really just touched my heart."
He said Hancock's presence allowed him to refocus and regain his strength. It allowed him to start thinking about the team — or, as he told me, "to go into Kevin mode."
He began telling his teammates to win the game, to win it for him. He said it over and over, until he was taken away on a stretcher before heading to a hospital for surgery.
You never know how you'll react to danger or disaster or trauma. You like to think you'll be strong and courageous, but sometimes it's just not that easy.
You can't fault the other players for their initial reaction to such a macabre moment. But you can praise Hancock, and you should.
"I think it just galvanized everybody," Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich said. "It was the very first thing I noticed. To see Luke right there was just incredible."
On Tuesday afternoon, Hancock arrived at the team training facility wanting to know when Ware would return home. Told that he already was in the locker room, Hancock rushed in.
"You could see on my face and on his face that we were just so happy to see each other," Hancock said. "He gave me a hug and said he was so thankful I was there for him. I told him I knew he'd do the same for me. That's my friend."