Just how big the Kevin Ware saga has become was evidentwhen the sophomore guard who has captured the nation's attention and praise with his courage and fortitude in the face of an horrific broken leg met the media for the first time Wednesday afternoon.
March Madness has been replaced by Media Madness.
We counted 23 cameras and several dozen reporters who gathered in the large upstairs lounge area at the Yum! practice facility on Floyd Street, moved from the normal downstairs room for such events to accomodate the media horde.
"To me it's an international story," UofL athletics director Tom Jurich said.
The response has certainly been widespread and Ware, who suffered a grisly compound fracture of his right leg in Sunday's 85-63 win over Duke in the Midwest Regional final in Indianapolis, said the flood of support has touched him deeply.
He has heard from a wide variety of people, including Michelle Obama, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Rajon Rondo, Carmelo Anthony, Ky. Gov. Steve Beshear, country singer Brad Paisley and NCAA president Mark Emmert, who actually visited him in the hospital. Ware has also appeared on the network morning shows and on CNN.
In an interview with ESPN's Rece Davis earlier in the day, Ware broke down and cried. He wasn't as emotional Wednesday afternoon, but he was just as sincere in thanking fans and others for their well-wishes.
"I have been touched by everyone," Ware said. "A lot of people are looking at me as a role model now. Getting all of this attention is not me, but I sure do appreciate it. It shows people really care."
Ware returned to campus Tuesday afternoon on crutches after being released from Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, two days after millions of viewers watched him break his leg -- with the bone protuding about six inches out of his skin -- when he landed awkwardly while jumping as he tried to block a shot.
"I kind of feel like stuff like this doesn't just happen for no reason," Ware said. "There's a reason behind everything. I assume I'll find out what the reason is going to be but it's a process I'm ready for. This is a minor setback for a major comeback."
Ware had special praise for co-captain Luke Hancock, who knelt over Ware after his fall and said a prayer while other players were reluctant too shocked to approach him for a few minutes because of what coach Rick Pitino called "a terrible sight."
"I want to thank Luke," Ware said. "He jumped right on the scene, the captain he is. What was going through my mind was that I was either going to cry and my team is going to be devastated and we are probably not going to win this game. Or I am just going to try and say something to get us through this."
What Ware said was, "I'll be fine, just win the game. Just win the game."
"They beat Duke by 22 points, so I guess my words got through to them," he said Wednesday.
Ware said he doesn't plan on watching a replay of the stomach-turning injury.
"That's one of those things I'll never want to see," he said. "Like when you're a kid and you've got that scary movie you never want to see. That's just going to be one of those nightmares I never want to face."
Both Ware and Pitino said they don't know when the New York City native, who now resides in Conyers, Ga., will be able to play basketball again or if he will have to sit out next season.
"Nobody knows," Pitino said. "This is a Joe Theisman, Michael Bush-type injury; I don't know how long it took them to come back. Everybody's different. I do know he faces a long road to recovery, but he'll have the best training staff, the best medical help anybody could have."
Said Ware: "I am just taking it day-by-day, honestly."
Doctors have said he will fully recover, but have given no timetable for his return to the basketball court. However, Ware's prognosis is good, according to orthopedic surgeon Fred Azar, a team doctor for the NBA Memphis Grizzlies.
"The injury just looked really dramatic on high-def television, but we see those kinds of injuries all the time in our practice," Azar told USA Today. "It was a compound fracture, and they all heal really well."
Ware will accompany the Cardinals to Atlanta for the Final Four and he hopes to help cut down the nets celebrating a national championship Monday night.
"As long as I don't fall off the ladder, I'm hoping to get up there," he said. "It's an experience you only get to have once in a lifetime."
Ware's mother, Lisa Junior, his stepfather, Wesley Junior, and his girlfriend all attended the press conference. Lisa and Kevin wore shirts that read, "Win It for Kevin. Atlanta 2013." But Ware says the Cards won't need any inspiration from him this time.
"I don't think I have to tell them anything," Ware said. "This isn't one of those things where we don't need to be motivated. We're in the Final Four. We are eitehr going to win the championship or be back here in Louisville."