The most gruesome injuries in college basketball history

Profile Picture: Jason Ence

January 29th, 2021

In our latest installment of the "most gruesome injuries" series, we turn our attention to the hardwood of college basketball.

Please be advised — some of the injuries you will see in this piece are graphic and should be viewed with caution.

Allan Ray, Villanova, 2006

This injury was thankfully not that bad, but the initial glimpse of it made many a stomach turn. During a 2006 Big East tournament game between Villanova and Pittsburgh, a Panther defender attempted to steal the ball from Ray. When he reached in, he accidentally poked Ray in the right eye. The impact caused soft tissue damage to his eye, but that was not what made it so brutal to watch. 
The finger pushed Ray's eyelid behind his eyeball, which made it look to everyone that his eye had actually been popped out of its socket, bulging out from his face. In fact, it was an optical trick (no pun intended), although the rapid exposure of his eyeball to light did cause temporary blindness to the Wildcat guard. 

Thankfully for Ray, there was no long-term damage, and he returned to play a week later in the NCAA Tournament, albeit with goggles on to protect his eyes. He would be named a consensus second-team All-American at the end of the season, and went onto play in the NBA for a season before bouncing around Europe, where he played for 12 different teams over twelve years before retiring in 2019.

Derrick Roland, Texas A&M, 2009

The Texas A&M senior was playing in a non-conference game against Washington when he went up for a shot early in the second half. Roland landed awkwardly underneath the basket, and snapped both the tibia and fibula in his right leg. His leg was bent at a 90-degree angle and his foot looked like it was dangling from the leg.

The A&M coaching staff said it heard the leg snap from the sideline, and teammate Donald Sloan was visibly shaken at the other end of the floor, as he bent over in tears. A team trainer was even in need of assistance after they treated Roland and needed to be helped off the floor.

Roland underwent surgery that night in Seattle, just a few days before Christmas, and underwent months of rehabilitation before he attempted to find a spot in the NBA D-League.

He played professionally in Uruguay, Argentina, England, and Latvia and retired in 2018.

Nerlens Noel, Kentucky, 2013

Kentucky center Nerlens Noel was a shot-blocking machine and was a frontrunner for the top pick in the NBA Draft, because of his length and athleticism. It was that very trait that led to his freak, season-ending injury.

Against SEC rival Florida, the freshman chased down guard Mike Rosario on a fast break and blocked his shot from behind. Upon landing, his left knee slammed into the basket stanchion, which hyperextended the joint and caused an ACL tear.

Noel immediately went down, clutched his knee, and his screams of anguish were easily audible on the ESPN broadcast, as trainers and coach John Calipari rushed to comfort him.

Noel’s injury derailed an already tumultuous season for the Wildcats. They missed the NCAA Tournament and were upset in the first round of the NIT.

Noel slid to sixth in the NBA Draft, and was traded that night to the Philadelphia 76ers. He has since played with the Dallas Mavericks, Oklahoma City Thunder, and New York Knicks. While his career has fallen well short of what was once expected, he has found a place as a defensive weapon off the bench.

Kevin Ware, Louisville, 2013

The most gruesome injury on this list, by far, happened during the same season as Noel's injury.

In an Elite Eight game against Duke, Louisville guard Kevin Ware attempted to block a first-half shot attempt by Blue Devils guard Tyler Thornton. When Ware came down, his right leg broke in half, with the lower portion of his tibia dangling at a 90-degree angle.

Ware suffered a compound fracture, and a large portion of his upper tibia broke through the skin, to the horror of everyone in attendance and those watching on television. Louisville coaches rushed over and put a towel over the leg, but not before multiple players turned in visible disgust. Ware was removed from the court on a stretcher and taken to the hospital, where he underwent surgery that night.

Louisville won the game, and its “Win for Ware” motto inspired a run to the national title. Ware was even on the court celebrating with his team as they cut down the nets. Ware received public support from all corners of the sports world, including multiple NBA and NFL players.

Ware returned to the team in the fall but later re-injured the leg. He eventually transferred to Georgia State in 2014 and led the team to the NCAA Tournament that season, where the Panthers upset third seed Baylor in the first round.

Ware has played professionally in the Czech Republic, Finland, and Greece, and is now playing in England.