Duquesne shooting victims progressing with rehab

Updated: October 25, 2006, 5:02 PM ET
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- Sam Ashaolu, still hospitalized more than a month after being shot, is shooting a basketball and lifting weights as part of his rehabilitation.

Duquesne officials stress the physical work is part of a program to reacquaint the 23-year-old player with familiar aspects of his life and to build up his strength.

Ashaolu, a 6-foot-7 power forward, is recovering from multiple gunshot wounds to the head. The most seriously injured of five Duquesne University players shot on campus, Ashaolu nearly died in the hours following the early-morning shootings of Sept. 17.

He first wanted to pick up a basketball again several weeks ago. In the past few days, he has been shooting casually at Mercy Hospital, where he is in the brain injury rehabilitation unit. The sessions are part of his rehab and are not designed like those of a structured college basketball practice.

"He's making great progress," said Duquesne coach Ron Everhart, who has visited Ashaolu almost daily since the shootings. "We see it every day and are thankful for it."

Ashaolu has progressed faster than expected but still faces months -- if not longer -- of recovery and rehabilitation. It remains unclear how severely the shootings impaired his memory and his thinking. His return to basketball and college are very much undetermined.

"We're not worried about that," Everhart said. "We just want him to get better."

Ashaolu has regained some of the estimated 30 pounds he lost in the first few weeks, and he is exercising almost daily. Although one bullet was removed Sept. 25 after it surfaced behind an ear, he still has fragments of another bullet in his head.

He's expected to remain hospitalized for a few more weeks and will need around-the-clock care when he's discharged.

Duquesne's other injured players are in various stages of their recoveries.

Stuard Baldonado, a 6-7 power forward who was being counted upon for considerable playing time this season, watches practice daily but needs extensive rehabilitation. Shot in the lower back and left arm, he likely will be redshirted this season.

Shawn James, a 6-10 frontcourt player who left Northeastern to move to Duquesne with Everhart, still cannot practice because of a bullet lodged in his foot. He is hoping light running and casual shooting in practice will cause the bullet to move closer to his skin so it can be removed.

Kojo Mensah, a guard who transferred from Siena, also cannot practice because of injuries to his left arm and shoulder. Neither James nor Mensah is eligible this season.

Aaron Jackson, the only one of the five players shot who did not receive a substantial injury, was grazed in the wrist by the same bullet that struck Mensah. One of two players returning from last season's 3-24 team, he has practiced since preseason workouts formally began Oct. 13.

Because the shootings have further weakened a program that was the worst in the Atlantic 10 Conference last season, Everhart was surprised when conference coaches picked the Dukes to finish 13th in the 14-school league.

The Dukes have had a losing record in all but one of the last 20 seasons and haven't been ranked in the AP Top 25 in 34 years.

Depleted by the shooting and other routine injuries, Everhart at times has had only eight healthy players for practice -- including three walk-ons.

"Maybe it's a show of support from the other coaches we weren't picked last," Everhart said.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press