BOZICH | Kevin Ware, family, teammates coaching Bronson Kessinger's comeback at Corydon
CORYDON, Ind. (WDRB) – When you play high school basketball in Indiana, and I mean play the game exceptionally the way Bronson Kessinger has played it over four varsity seasons at Corydon Central High School, you know the final snapshots you want from your career.
A victory celebration with teammates after your pursuit of a state championship.
An invitation to play for the Indiana all-stars in their summer series against Kentucky.
Kessinger has signed a scholarship to play for Indiana State next season, but no Corydon boy's player has made the Indiana all-stars.
“That was my goal,” Kessinger said. “I think I had a good chance.”
Then on Jan. 23, in one nasty, avoidable basketball play that unfolded at Salem (Ind) High School, all of that was gone because of an ugly fall and three broken bones.
“Bronson is a competitor and a really good player,” said Kevin Ware. “He's just got to find that motivation for himself to getting back on that court and wanting to be better than he was before he got injured.”
Ware is the former University of Louisville star now playing at Georgia State. Ware and Kessinger endured similar injuries – compound fractures in their lower legs. Kessinger's situation is more daunting. Why? He also fractured his left wrist.
“I was running down the lane,” Kessinger said. “[A teammate] saw me and passed me the ball. The rim was right there. I was going to go up and dunk it.
“I told myself I was going to hang on the rim no matter what happened because I knew I had people behind me. I was just going to make sure nothing happened.
“Before I even got to the rim, I got pushed. That's when I go back and everything bad happened...I wasn't to the rim yet. I couldn't reach it. I just knew when I got pushed, I knew there was no way I was getting to the rim.”
Instead of flying for a dunk, Kessinger tumbled to the floor, his narrow 6-foot-8 body twisted, face-down, nearly parallel to the court. Three Salem players were in pursuit. At least one appeared to push Kessinger's lower body.
Kessinger was unable to protect himself before his legs, arms and head bounced violently off the unforgiving wood.
He remained down, screaming loud enough that his mother, DeeDee, eventually turned away. He told his coach and father (Tom) that his left leg felt, well, I'll let Kessinger describe the raging pain:
“It just felt like my leg was on fire,” Kessinger said.
“I prayed,” DeeDee Kessinger said. “I just kept waiting for him to get up. I could hear him scream. I just knew it wasn't right.”
No, it was not right. Something was very wrong.
Kessinger's left tibia and fibula were fractured, one broken bone piercing the skin as blood flowed into towels wrapped around his leg. They did not tell Bronson the seriousness of his injuries until later, sometime during one of the ambulance rides to the hospital in Salem or maybe later when he was transported to the University of Louisville hospital for surgery.
Kessinger grew up cheering for U of L. His next flashback was inevitable.
“The Kevin Ware injury,” Kessinger said. “It was awful watching him go down like that.”
Ware injured his right leg after he jumped to defend a Duke shooter during the 2013 Midwest Regional in Indianapolis. Nobody touched Ware. His leg merely buckled.
Video from Kessinger's injury shows that at least one opposing player hit Kessinger. Salem coach Hank Weedin said one player was dismissed from the team the following day. Weedin said that player violated a contract between coach and player.
“I just had a bad feeling before the game,” DeeDee Kessinger said. “I did...I don't want to say they were coming after him, but they were pretty fired up.
“I could not believe it. It was just like a bad dream, a bad nightmare, my worst nightmare. As a Mom, knowing that (Bronson) is going to play basketball in college...his senior year, he had lots of goals that he wanted to achieve this year and the team. They all did.”
Ware was on crutches in less than a week, celebrating with his U of L teammates when they won the NCAA title in Atlanta. Crutches remain a goal for Kessinger because of the broken wrist. Until that injury heals, Bronson cannot support himself on crutches.
He has already missed two weeks of school and could miss four more. Every afternoon, Kessinger must endure a shot in his stomach to lessen the possibility of blood clots.
He has returned, in a wheelchair, to watch two Corydon games. Teammates have honored him with gold “Bronson Strong” t-shirts they wear during warm-ups. Doctors have told him that Kessinger will recover in three-to-six months and play next season at Indiana State.
Corydon (13-4) will have to battle through the state tournament without Kessinger and the 15.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists he gave the Panthers. His climb on the Corydon all-time scoring list stopped several slots short of the third-place finish he was likely to earn.
Although several basketball people in Indiana are already advocating that he belongs on the Indiana all-stars, there is no guarantee Kessinger will get that telephone call.
But he does have a new telephone friend. His name is Kevin Ware, who texted encouragement to Kessinger less than a week after the injury. They have texted several times and Ware has also talked to DeeDee Kessinger.
“It meant a lot,” Kessinger said. “I needed somebody to talk to about it.”
“I was just giving him motivation, just to stay positive,” Ware said. “It's going to be a process, but everything will work out. There are going to be aches and pains. It's going to feel different. His body is going to completely change. But he can still get back to that level of play.”
Ware has continued to send Kessinger encouraging words. He is helping coach Kessinger to make his story a comeback story. The bones in his left leg will heal by next summer, the rod in his leg should eventually come out and his fractured left wrist will also heal.
Kessinger has Ware's number. He can call or text any time.
Ware's message has been that Kessinger will come back a better and stronger basketball player at Indiana State – and that soon Kessinger will inspire others the way that Kevin Ware has inspired Kessinger.
“I know it's one of those things you never want to see happen to your child and obviously Bronson didn't want it to happen, but he's handled it really well,” DeeDee Kessinger said.
“He's just been great. He's been positive and not let it get him down. Everyone's been great. People reach out to us that I didn't even know. It's just been unbelievable the amount of support that's been shown from our community and from other schools, rival schools.”
“I just think about what's ahead in the future, what I have,” Kessinger said. “I'm just going to come back, stronger than ever. I'm pretty optimistic about it.”
That's exactly what Kevin Ware wanted to hear.
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