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Posted: April 2, 2013 9:03 p.m.

Fazio: Ware, area stars shine

This year’s NCAA Basketball Tournament was predicted to be a memorable one, and with just the Final Four left to be played, it has lived up to that expectation.

Atlanta was supposed to be the talk of the tournament as the host of the final three games, but the Dance’s biggest topics come from right here in this region, specifically Rockdale County.

During the tournament’s opening rounds, Florida Gulf Coast gained national attention for its historic run of upsets. The Eagles were mentioned, seemingly, everywhere from Sports Illustrated to Forbes, and at the center was one of their starting five, Bernard Thompson.

Sunday, an NCAA Tournament occurrence again became national news, in an unfortunate circumstance.

During Louisville’s Elite 8 victory over Duke, a player went down with one of the worst injuries in sports history, and was talked about on every sports program and mainstream media such as the Today Show.

Kevin Ware was set to return to Atlanta for the Final Four as a player, but now will do so as a newfound celebrity and the key motivating factor in the Louisville Cardinals’ chase for a championship. Ware was well known to Rockdale basketball fans as a star who led the Bulldogs to the 2011 state championship game, before he became known to the entire country.

At Rockdale, his wiry frame was constantly moving and jumping on both offensive and defensive ends of the court, leading the Bulldogs to the championship game for the first time since 1989. His team reached those heights, not just because of his abilities, but also because of their unity.

It appeared Ware has carried that unity to Louisville, where it was on full display Sunday.

As gruesome as his fractured right leg was after the injury, I couldn’t focus too much on the physical incident. But it’s what has happened around the injury that should be highlighted.

Watching it live on CBS, where it was first shown as Ware fell, it took a minute to notice what exactly happened as the cameras showed Duke’s Tyler Thornton agonizing, and panned to several Louisville players on the floor crying. A replay showed Ware stumbling down with his right leg distorted, and the scene wasn’t televised again.

For the nine minutes the game was postponed, the scene looked like a memorial with tears streaming down the faces of not only his teammates, but also fans, cheerleaders and coaches.

The unity displayed was heart-wrenching. All were crying, with the exception of Ware.

Ware reportedly told his teammates to win the game for him, and refused to show emotion. A picture later surfaced throughout Twitter and on the cover of the regional edition of Sports Illustrated of Ware lying on a stretcher on the Indianapolis court reaching up, grabbing the hands of four of his teammates.

His teammates weren’t the only ones in support of Ware, as hundreds of messages were extended to him via Twitter, including words by Kobe Bryant, Lebron James and others. Ware’s status, along with his drive and determination, was on the minds of the nation.

His character, developed in Rockdale, became a key talking point of the tournament.

As the 2013 NCAA’s winds down here in Atlanta, Ware will continue to be the hot topic, along with the incredible story of Florida Gulf Coast.

Annually CBS runs its “One Shining Moment” highlight package, and this year will most likely see much of two of Rockdale’s finest basketball alumni shining brightly.

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