Louisville Cardinals guard Kevin Ware underwent surgery to repair the broken leg he suffered in Sunday's win over Duke. It was a grisly sight, one of the worst sports injuries ever caught on TV cameras. After the game, coach Rick Pitino stated that Ware broke his leg in two places and will be out for about a year.
So what kind of rehab is Ware looking at, and when, if ever, will he be ready to return to the court? The answer may lie in a fellow Louisville player Pitino directly compared to Ware--Michael Bush.
Heading into his senior season in 2006, Bush was touted as a Heisman candidate, and the Cardinals were a darkhorse pick to make the National Championship Game. Those lofty dreams were quickly dashed in the season opener against Kentucky, when his leg buckled underneath him while being tackled by linebacker Wesley Woodyard. He fractured both his tibia and fibia, ending his season almost as soon as it began.
Bush spent an hour in surgery and had a titanium rod and two screws inserted into his leg. With no hope of returning to the football field that season, he set his sights on the upcoming NFL Draft. Despite a six-month timetable, his leg wasn't healthy enough to participate in the Combine. He had hoped to be ready to workout at Louisville's pro day on March 26, but the leg just wasn't healing properly, and he had to undergo a second surgery to insert a new rod.
A projected first-round pick before the injury, Bush fell all the way to the fourth round, where he was picked up by the Oakland Raiders. The team was hoping that Bush would be ready for contact drills in training camp, about eight months after his injury. That never came to fruition, however, and he started the season on the PUP list. Despite reports that he was healthy and ready to go when the mandated six-week period was up, the Raiders kept him on the PUP, essentially taking a redshirt on his rookie year. Bush finally made his NFL debut in 2008, about two years after the initial injury.
It's hard to say how much the injury sapped Bush's production. In 2005, his best year in college, he racked up 1,143 yards on 205 attempts, good for 5.6 yards per carry. He also set a school record with 23 touchdowns. At the NFL level, Bush has mostly been relegated to change-of-pace duties. He never got a real opportunity to start until 2011, when Darren McFadden went down with an injury. Over the last nine games, Bush rushed 196 times for 740 yards and four touchdowns, a plodding 3.7 YPC. He later went to Chicago to spell Matt Forte, and never lived up to the potential he flashed at Louisville.
So what's the takeaway here for Ware? Well, other than the upside that Louisville isn't as dysfunctional as the Raiders were in Al Davis' last years, it's that this is a tricky injury to come back from, and a setback is all too possible despite the quantum leap sports medicine has taken in the past decade. The absolute best-case scenario is that he may be ready for the end-of-season stretch run in February. He could just as easily not play again until 2015--it's way too early to say at this point.
Obviously Bush and Ware play completely different sports, but even if the sophomore does come back on schedule, there's no guarantee he will be the same player. His injury came on a routine jump, with no obvious signs of landing awkwardly or slipping. It's an extremely rare basketball injury with no immediate precedents, which may be the reason Pitino made the Bush comparison in the first place.
However this plays out, the least we can do is hope for a full recovery of a young man whose life and livelihood may be changed forever.