Even though the two have never met, Dwight Howard maintains a strong connection with Louisville guard Kevin Ware.
The two once played on the same AAU team, ironically called the Atlanta Celtics, in two separate stints. Ware suffered a compound fracture in his right tibia in the first half Louisville’s eventual win Sunday over Duke in the NCAA regional and had surgery later that night. Shortly afterwards, Howard contacted Ware.
“Us Celtics stick together,” Howard said before quickly anticipating the possible backlash from Lakers fans. “That’s the Atlanta Celtics.”
Howard added that Steve Nash and Pau Gasol also expressed their well wishes. Ware has said in interviews that Lakers guard Kobe Bryant reached out to him, too. Howard described Ware’s spirits as “pretty good.”
“Hopefully he comes back better than ever,” Howard said. “I know how it feels. When I broke my leg, everybody thought my career was done when I was 15. Look where it got me. I’m pretty sure it will push him to get back even harder.”
Howard said he broke his leg playing basketball after landing awkwardly on a dunk. His growth plate popped out, requiring him to have doctors put two screws in to repair the leg.
Howard believes that injury gave him stronger perspective as he navigated frustrations surrounding last year’s back surgery.
“It gave me some hope for the future,” said Howard. “I’m a hard worker myself so from this whole experience this year made me stronger. Starting off the season pretty slowly, I’m still trying to recover and play hard.”
Howard has averaged 16.7 points and 12.7 rebounds this season, his lowest marks since the 2005-06 season. But he’s appeared in both better health and stronger conditioning since the All-Star break.
“I’m able to do more things on the floor,” Howard said. “I’m in better shape. All I can do is continue to get better. I knew it was a process. I have to be patient with my body. It’s still not all the way there. But from where I started at the beginning of the year to now, it’s a blessing.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org