Kevin Ware returns to NCAA tourney

Kevin Ware's Journey (5:10)

After suffering a gruesome leg injury during the NCAA tournament two years ago while with Louisville, Kevin Ware now plays closer to home at Georgia State. Radio calls courtesy of Learfield Sports. Ware high school highlights: http://youtu.be/H0F2tW1a-4Q (5:10)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Kevin Ware had one hope headed into Selection Sunday: He wanted his Georgia State team to be paired against Louisville.

That would have been quite the story, given their history. But instead, Ware makes his return to the NCAA tournament against Baylor on Thursday in the second round in Jacksonville.

In the end, the opponent hardly matters. All that really matters is seeing Ware back in the tournament, two years after he suffered a gruesome leg injury while playing for the Cardinals in the Elite Eight against Duke.

"I was hoping," Ware said Wednesday. "That would have been big, not just the storyline and things like that, but just being the first game in the NCAA tournament. I definitely would have wanted to play them, but we got Baylor, and that's all we're really worried about right now.

"I miss those guys, but it is what it is. Hopefully, they advance and we advance."

Ware ended up transferring to Georgia State this past season and made the most of his new opportunity. He was named Sun Belt tournament MVP after scoring 18 points in a 38-36 win over Georgia Southern in the championship game as Georgia State locked up a spot in the tournament.

After that win, an emotional Ware addressed his teammates in the locker room and told them about his last tournament experience.

"You could just almost -- from the excitement, and it was so loud in the locker room -- to hearing an absolute pin drop when he talked about that when the guys huddled up," coach Ron Hunter said. "From that point on, our guys seemed to relax because one of the things we have not done, we have never talked about Kevin Ware's injury. It was off limits, not in the locker room, nowhere. So that was the first time any of that has been brought up anywhere in our program."

Hunter said one of the biggest hurdles Ware had to clear when he arrived was mental. At several points, Hunter said Ware thought about quitting.

"Late January, it was a struggle, and we just talked about it because he had another setback," Hunter said. "It's just everything was a struggle. He thought he was there, it was a setback, and then the week before we went to the conference tournament and we played in the championship game at our place and you could just see he had a different vibe about him. He moved a little bit differently. And from that point on he's been a different player."

Now that he is back in the tournament, Ware just wants to enjoy the moment. It also is a new role for him -- Ware does not have much previous experience being the underdog.

"I mean, this is one of the best times of the year regardless of sport," Ware said. "It's the NCAA tournament. It's win or go home. A lot of people make their names here, and it's just honestly fun.

"I can't really say it another way. At Louisville, we were projected to win, but here we're just the underdog. It's more just about having fun for us."