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Gruesome basketball injury a 'freak accident,' doc says

Darron Cummings / AP

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino and trainers tend to injured guard Kevin Ware during the first half of the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament against Duke, on March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. Ware badly injured his lower right leg and had to be taken off the court on a stretcher.

The gruesome break that shattered Louisville Cardinals guard Kevin Ware’s right lower leg during Sunday’s Elite Eight playoff game was a “freak accident” rare outside of car accidents or other high-velocity trauma, a sports medicine expert said.

The 20-year-old sophomore from the Bronx apparently landed awkwardly in the heat of the NCAA Midwest Final game against the Duke Blue Devils, perhaps exacerbating an undetected stress fracture, said Dr. Frederick Azar, a vice president and spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and chief of staff at Campbell Clinic in Germantown, Tenn., who consults for the Memphis Grizzlies NBA basketball team.

“He may have just landed funny and torqued his tibia,” said Azar, who was watching the game. “It was a freak accident.”

Such injuries, don’t often happen at the low velocity of even high-level basketball, which raises the possibility that Ware had a preexisting stress fracture, Azar said.

The bone in Ware’s lower right leg apparently broke in two places and could be seen sticking out through Ware’s skin, observers said.

“To actually see it happen like that is rare,” Azar said. “A bone sticking out of the skin is really, really unusual.”

The injury, which occurred with 6:33 minutes left in the first half of the game, sent 6-foot-2 Ware to floor, stunned his teammates into sickened sobs and silenced the crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The Cardinals went on to win the game 85-63.

Known as a compound fracture or open fracture, the injury occurs when the bone protrudes through the skin, Azar said. Doctors likely washed out the injury to prevent infection and then quickly performed surgery to place a titanium or stainless steel rod in Ware’s leg.

“They’ll get him up and get him going by tomorrow,” Azar said. “You would hope he gets fixed tonight.”

Cardinals coach Rick Pitino told reporters that Ware would be out of  commission for a year, but Azar said that if surgery went well and there were no nerve complications or infections, the young, healthy player could be back on the court in time for next season, or within six months.

“That’s the good news: We have the technology to fix this,” said Azar.