There are always plenty of storylines heading into Final Four Weekend, and this year is no exception. This season, we have two stories of Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams and Louisville’s Kevin Ware that are the epitome of perseverance and inspiration.
During the Syracuse game versus California in the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament, Williams’s family home was burned to the ground. For most teenagers this would have been a devastating blow that would have rendered them useless in an event as big as the NCAA tournament, but that has not been the case. This kid has shown unbelievable fortitude in the aftermath of this family tragedy. He has apparently brushed aside the fact that his family lost all of their personal belongings to focus on the fact everybody survived the event and most of the things that were lost could be replaced. If Williams was effected by what transpired, you would not have known it by his play, as he captured the Region’s MVP scoring 12 points, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out six assists in their 55-39 victory over Marquette in the East Regional Final.
Williams led the Orange on both sides of the court. At 6-7, he virtually shut down opposing guards, as he anchored that vaunted 2-3 zone and then directed Jim Boeheim’s offense to near perfection. When he had every reason to go into the tank, he showed tremendous leadership, leading Syracuse to the Final Four.
In the Midwest Region, the sight of Louisville’s Kevin Ware withering in pain looked like the beginning of the end of the Cardinals’ march to the Final Four. Ware went down after fracturing his fibula on a freak play toward the end of the first half of their game with the Duke Blue Devils. At that time, the Cardinals were up by three but the score was irrelevant at time. Although he is not among the team’s statistical leaders, he was an important cog to this team’s success. You knew it was a devastating scene because there was dead silence in the arena. Duke and Cardinal players and fans alike were visibly shaken up and most were on the verge of tears after seeing what had transpired.
Like Syracuse’s Michael Carter Williams, Louisville, as a team, had every reason to wave the white flag as they watched their fallen teammate on the ground with a piece of broken bone piercing from his skin. Ware, of all people, shouted out during the nine-minute delay, “Just win the game!” and that is what the Cardinals did.
After briefly falling behind in the second half, Rick Pitino’s Cardinals erupted and put on a basketball clinic on route to an 85-63 victory that earned them a trip to Atlanta. To say that Ware’s bravery catapulted Louisville to that victory is an understatement. There is no doubt that Ware inspired his fellow teammates as well as his coach.
Ware had surgery that night and is expected to be back on the court within six-to-nine months. But after what he did for his team on Sunday, he has earned his four-year scholarship in one afternoon.
When I look back at this postseason run, Williams and Ware will stick out in my mind. It will not be just for their play on the court, but it will be for their fortitude, inspiration, and for the way they handled adversity off of the court.