ATLANTA -- As horrifying as the sight of Kevin Ware's gruesome compound leg fracture may have been, it produced a jolt of adrenaline that not only helped Louisville get past Duke in the Midwest Regional final but allowed the Cardinals (33-5) to ride a wave of national sentiment to the Georgia Dome for their national semifinal matchup with Wichita State (30-8) on Saturday night.
But that initial burst of energy wore off for Ware on Thursday evening at some point after he taped a reading of David Letterman's Top 10 list. Ware, who traveled to Atlanta only two days after surgery, was exhausted at a team dinner and was excused from Friday's media session to rest for a game he desperately wanted to play in the city where he went to high school.
The question is whether Ware's teammates might also experience an emotional letdown after a week of national focus on how they are handling the injury.
"I don't think the attention has really been taxing on anybody," senior point guard Peyton Siva said. "If anything, I'm just glad to know Kevin Ware even more because he's probably the most famous person I know. When you have Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama call you, it's pretty good to say, 'I know that person.' It's pretty amazing, but I think it's more taxing on Kevin than any of us."
Sophomore forward Chane Behanan, Ware's closest friend on the team, said his buddy actually is an introvert who was overwhelmed by the sudden attention. "A kid like him was shocked about all these things happening," Behanan said. "He's going on TV shows, meeting new people, talking to people on the phone that he never thought he would. I think it really hasn't hit him yet, but when you get famous, it's hard work."
Ware is expected to be seated on the sideline during the game, and his presence surely will be inspirational. But Ware's teammates know his absence from the playing rotation might make it more difficult for the Cardinals to sustain the energy that fuels their pressing defense.
"One big piece is missing, Kevin Ware," Behanan said, "so a lot of people have got to step up. There's going to be a lot of motivation and a lot of challenges for people that don't play as many minutes."
Swingman Luke Hancock should see extended time, but his value is more as a designated shooter. Walk-on Tim Henderson, a 6-2 junior, replaces Ware as a defense-oriented sub against tough Shockers point guard Malcolm Armstead.
"Tim Henderson, a lot of people are talking about him being a walk-on, but he's been guarding Russ Smith all year [in practice]," Siva said, referring to his backcourt partner, the leading scorer in the NCAA Tournament. "If you guard Russ Smith, you can pretty much guard anybody."
After losing to eventual champion Kentucky a year ago in the semifinals, Louisville returns as the No. 1 overall seed with the pressure of expectations to win. But in a way, Ware's injury has overshadowed all of that.
"I'm glad all the attention has been on Kevin," Behanan said. "But the focus of everyone on the team remains the same, and that's to win a national championship. Kevin's going to be a big part of that, and I don't think we will lose focus on that."