LOUISVILLE — Kevin Ware joined practice with No. 4 Louisville for the first time this week. The short-handed Cardinals are expecting him to contribute immediately.
Coach Rick Pitino said the 6-foot-3 guard could receive playing time as the backup point guard when the Cardinals (9-0) face Memphis on Saturday. Ware had been ineligible for the fall semester after failing to meet NCAA initial eligibility requirements.
"If he has another good practice tomorrow, he will see some time in this game Saturday, which is a little bit of a surprise," Pitino said. "He's in much better physical shape than we expected. We'll give him a couple of things offensively to run."
Pitino said Ware was even briefly hurt in practice Thursday. "Now he's officially a Louisville Cardinal," Pitino joked.
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The Cardinals have little choice but to make light of their injury situation.
Two players are out indefinitely after Mike Marra tore a ligament in his left knee last month and Stephan Van Treese reinjured his left knee just over three weeks ago after playing in three games this year. Two others — Elisha Justice (broken nose) and Wayne Blackshear (right shoulder) — should return in the coming weeks. Rakeem Buckles has played one game since returning from a torn right knee ligament. Peyton Siva missed two games earlier this season with a sprained left ankle and Russ Smith missed another with a stiff neck.
Pitino said all the injuries and lineup changes remind him of coaching in the NBA.
"I'm sort of used to this because I had so many 10-day contracts with the Celtics. We were so bad that in the beginning we had so many 10-day contracts, trying new people," Pitino said. "That's been our season because it's been musical chairs. ... Our players are used to it."
Ware represents the first fresh reinforcement for the Cardinals and the final part of Louisville's five-player recruiting class that included Blackshear, Chane Behanan, Angel Nunez and Zach Price.
Ware was a first-team all-state selection in Georgia who was considered a top-100 prospect. He averaged 13.2 points and 4.1 assists as a senior at Rockdale County, which finished as the state runner-up in 4A.
He was not available to speak to reporters, but it's been a long road to Louisville.
He was released from a national letter of intent he signed with Tennessee after coach Bruce Pearl was fired and subsequently signed a grant-in-aid with UCF in April before backing out of his commitment to the Knights. Then, he fell short of meeting NCAA eligibility requirements after committing to the Cardinals.
"He might have caught on to the system in probably like the first couple of minutes of practice. He's really good," Smith said.