Kevin Ware’s mother will be there Saturday in Louisville, sitting in the KFC Yum! Center stands, her eyes searching for a junior wearing No. 5. It will be the 223rd day since that horrific Easter Sunday, when she was watching television back home in Georgia and saw her son’s right leg explode on television, as the whole nation winced.
And what will happen Saturday, should Rick Pitino point to Ware and send him into the game against the College of Charleston?
"I’m a cry baby,” Lisa Junior said over the phone from Georgia. “So more than likely, I’ll be crying.”
The Return of Kevin Ware goes on apace in Louisville, after the broken leg, the rehab, the sweat, the pain, the vow that he’d be back --- someday. Pitino surprised the Cardinal world, including Lisa Junior, when he slipped Ware into an exhibition game Wednesday. A text message alerted her that Kevin was playing, and she and husband Wesley reached for the iPad to find the game online.
Suddenly there he was, scoring six points in 10 minutes, a small figure on a computer screen playing 400 miles away. But it meant so much. “An early birthday present,” his mother called it. Lisa’s birthday is Sunday.
“It’s been a long time coming. He was very determined to get back on the court and get back to doing what he loves,” Lisa said. But mothers worry. It comes with the job. The last time she saw her son on a basketball court, he was surrounded by a weeping coach, worried teammates and frantic medical help.
“I thought it would have been a lot harder on me,” she said of Wednesday night. “But being that Rick kind of sprung it on me, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. We’ll see if in person, it’ harder, or whether I’ll be OK.”
It was barely two weeks ago that, by accident, Wesley and Lisa Junior finally saw a video of the injury for the first time since the day it happened against Duke in the Midwest Regional in Indianapolis.
“Just to watch it kind of brought back that day,” Wesley said of his stepson. “When we saw it that Easter Sunday, we thought it can’t be as bad as it looked. But knowing what happened, you get a different feeling about it now ...
“... it really was that bad,” Lisa said, completing the sentence.
Watching that video had her reliving the moment, the anguish, the fear. “To look at the facial expressions going on around him, that’s what made it worse for me, because I knew it was really something. Everybody looked like they saw a ghost.”
Her son had told his mother not to worry about traveling to Indianapolis. He’d just see Wesley and her the next week in Atlanta at the Final Four. She is as sure of something now as she was then. “We really don’t think it was meant for us to be there and see that.”
Lisa and Wesley were on the road Friday, headed north to Louisville, for a moment that will help bring the tale full circle.
“His mind has been set on making it back, being with the team, getting back on the court and proving those who said he wouldn’t make it back in time for the season wrong,” Wesley said. “His heart has been set on doing that. He kind of showed [Wednesday] that 'for those who said I would never play again, I’m here.' "
Lisa mentions how so much has gone right after one day went so wrong, including all the goodwill messages that came “from every corner of the world. That made his recovery so much easier. He had to be positive because there was so much positivity going on around him.”
What happened to Kevin Ware remains one of college basketball’s most sickening images. “He hasn’t seen the video and he might not see the video for another 10 or 20 years,” Wesley said. But Saturday should be a big day in Louisville.
The Cardinals are starting a new season and hanging their 2013 championship banner. Meanwhile, a mother and stepfather in the stands will be celebrating a happy ending to a horror story.