After seeing Louisville guard Kevin Ware’s lower right leg break Sunday during the NCAA Tournament, it was hard not to think he might never play basketball again. Fortunately, it appears that this armchair prognosis is not correct; although Ware faces a lengthy rehabilitation process, Louisville’s sports medicine director, Fred Hina, said he will play again. Indeed, the four young athletes who’ve suffered injuries as dramatically devastating as Ware’s in recent years have all gone on to resume their careers at a high level.
3. Michael Bush — 746 NFL carries since breaking his leg
The injury that mostly closely resembles Ware’s also happened to a Louisville player, and both Rick Pitino and Hina used it as a reference point for his recovery process. During the opening game of his senior season, running back Michael Bush broke his right leg while being tackled. The injury that Bush suffered, which kept him out for the entirety of his senior season, was so similar to Ware’s that Bush said he cried after seeing Ware get hurt on Sunday and called him afterward to wish him well. After being selected in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL Draft, Bush sat out his rookie season and then returned to the field in 2008; he’s since played in 74 games over five seasons for two NFL teams.
5. Shaun Livingston — 236 games since a massive leg injury
On a visceral level, the basketball injury that most came to mind when Ware went down was that of Shaun Livingston’s during his third season in the NBA. (Livingston skipped college, so he was about the same age when injured as Ware is now.) During a routine drive to the hoop, the promising point guard sustained a major dislocation of his kneecap that resulted in tears to multiple ligaments — the injury was so major that there were worries doctors might have had to amputate his leg. Livingston missed the remainder of the 2006-07 season, the entirety of 2007-08, and only played 231 minutes in 2008-09. From 2009 through 2012, he played for the Thunder, Wizards, Bobcats, and Bucks, but this year he’s finally started to catch on with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Either way, he’s reestablished himself as a valuable contributor in the NBA.
7. Willis McGahee — 1,957 NFL carries since tearing three knee ligaments
Miami running back Willis McGahee’s injury in the 2003 national championship game was as viscerally brutal as an injury could be. McGahee tore three ligaments in his knee, falling from an expected top-five position in the 2003 NFL Draft to the 23rd selection overall, then sitting out the entire 2003 season as he finished rehabbing. But since finally playing an NFL snap in 2004, McGahee has played in 130 NFL games over nine seasons in the league — an impressively long career for anyone, let alone someone who suffered a major knee injury in college.
9. Marcus Lattimore — currently rehabbing for the NFL Draft
While Bush, Livingston, and McGahee show the possibilities for players who suffer extensive and seemingly cataclysmic damage to their legs — as do the increasingly common stories of guys overcoming ACL tears, headlined by Adrian Peterson’s 2012 MVP season — Marcus Lattimore is someone Ware can relate to, since he’s trying to do this right now. Five months ago, as a junior at South Carolina, Lattimore dislocated his knee and tore ligaments during a game — an injury so bad that trainers wouldn’t let him look at it while he was on the field. Bad as the injury was, it also happened to be the second major knee injury Lattimore had sustained during his college career. But Lattimore’s currently working out for NFL teams in advance of the draft in April and is expected to be taken in the middle rounds.