- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 3, 2013

LOUISVILLE, KY. (AP) - Kevin Ware is pretty certain how his next few months will play out.

“After we win the national championship,” the injured Louisville guard said with a smile on his face, “I’m just looking forward to rehab.”

Ware is already set for his next step, though he is gingerly walking around on crutches and with his surgically repaired broken leg in a cast up to his right knee: He is heading to the Final Four.

Ware was cleared Wednesday by doctors to accompany the Cardinals on their hour-long flight to Atlanta and he did just that. The last player to enter the team’s hotel in Georgia, he was greeted with cheers when he came through the door in a wheelchair. He waved to fans as he entered an elevator.

“It’s like he’s never left,” teammate Peyton Siva said. “Words can’t explain our feelings to have him back with us.”

Ware plans to be a full participant in preparations for Saturday’s game against Wichita State, including sitting on the bench. And the Cardinals will wear new warm-up gear to honor the sophomore, with Ware’s No. 5 replacing the “S” in the “Rise to the Occasion” T-shirts they’ve been wearing.

“To see him up again _ just to see a picture of him up again is awesome,” Siva said. “Now he’s up walking with a broken leg, crutching around.”

Ware said the overwhelming support he has received has helped him maintain his spirits and strengthened his confidence of a full recovery. He hopes by next season to be helping the Cardinals defend the national championship he believes they’ll win this weekend.

The normally reserved 20-year-old calmly recalled how he felt when he suffered the devastating injury, saying he doesn’t think Louisville would be in the Final Four if he had lost his composure.

Ware credits teammate Luke Hancock for calming him down.

“He got me to that point where I really had to put the pain on hold,” said Ware, with his leg in a cast propped up on a couch. “Once he said his prayer, I was kind of thinking the whole time, `you can either be a crybaby about it or you’re going to get your team back and get them in the right mindset’.

“Luke said his words, and I just kept repeating, `y’all gotta go win this game.’ I’m fine. … It really helped the team.”

But it wasn’t easy for the Cardinals, many of whom cried after seeing Ware’s gruesome injury _ his bone protruding six inches through his skin.

Even Louisville coach Rick Pitino was emotional, wiping tears from his eyes and later saying that the sight of his player’s injury almost made him vomit.

But Pitino said everyone’s emotions have settled down knowing that it appears Ware will be OK.

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