Ashaolu shows up at practice, still has jumper
PITTSBURGH -- Sam Ashaolu, the most seriously injured of the five Duquesne University basketball players shot last month, made a surprise visit to practice Monday night and showed he still has his jump shot.
Ashaolu, a transfer from Lake Region State in North Dakota who nearly died last month following on-campus shootings that ravaged the Dukes' rebuilding team, walked the block from Mercy Hospital to watch practice, hug teammates, kid them about good plays and bad and stand in a post-practice midcourt meeting.
"Get out there, Sam!" neuropsychologist Hilly Rubinsky said to Ashaolu as the 6-foot-7 power forward hesitated for a moment before joining his teammates in a circle at midcourt, each clasping the hands of the person beside him. "You're part of this team."
Some players almost did a double take when Ashaolu, from suburban Toronto, walked into their practice gym unannounced with younger brother Olu and family friend Jason Campbell.
"I was shocked to see him there," coach Ron Everhart said. "What an uplifting and motivating experience to have him there. We responded with the best practice we've had all year. I was really excited to see Sam sitting there. If it was as motivating for our guys as it was for me, I can imagine how excited they were to get going."
After practice ended, Ashaolu again surprised his coach during an informal shooting session, wearing a Duquesne sweatshirt with his No. 5 on the sleeve and a pair of jeans. He hit a succession of shots beyond the 3-point line, less than a month after the 23-year-old player -- who is recovering from two bullet wounds to the head -- was released from intensive care.
"I've got my stroke back," he said, laughing after hitting several shots. "I had to get it back."
As he did, Olu, a highly recruited high school star in Texas, kept feeding him the ball. Olu Ashaolu is visiting his brother for the first time since the Sept. 17 shootings injured Ashaolu and four teammates, leaving lingering injuries to all but one.
The others, 6-10 Shawn James (foot), 6-7 Stuard Baldonado (back, left arm) and 6-1 guard Kojo Mensah (left arm), received physical therapy for their injuries at courtside during practice. James showed Ashaolu where the bullet in his left foot remains lodged, and Mensah still wears a brace on the arm where he was shot.
Ashaolu's doctors are trying to temper their enthusiasm about his rapid progress, but are finding it difficult considering he spent nearly a month in a hospital bed with little activity other than walking.
"I've been in rehabilitation for the last 20 years, and only one other patient I have seen recover as fast in the first six weeks," said Rubinsky, who spoke to The Associated Press only after family members agreed he could. "So it's very positive. We hope he continues on the same kind of recovery curve. In this business, nothing is for sure, so to see this kind of progress, it predicts he's going to make more progress. But how soon and how much, no one really knows at this point."
Rubinsky, who once had a student named Michael Jordan take a class he taught at the University of North Carolina, said it was obvious how much being back in a basketball setting motivated Ashaolu.
Ashaolu thumbed through an NBA preseason magazine, talking and laughing with teammates whenever one came close. His speech has improved remarkably in only a few weeks, and friends said his memory is gradually improving, too. And when he spotted several female students riding stationary bicycles in an adjacent weight room, he walked over to talk to them.
Doctors still aren't certain if Ashaolu can attend college again, or play basketball, but Everhart couldn't believe how a man who was so seriously injured in September could shoot a basketball so well in October.
"The only thing you can say is his progress has been miraculous," Everhart said.
Ashaolu may be released from Mercy Hospital as early as this weekend and will have live-in help as he continues his rehabilitation and recovery. Although one bullet was removed Sept. 25 after it surfaced behind Ashaolu's ear, he still has fragments of another bullet in his head.
Duquesne, which has only three returning players from the team that went 3-24 last season under former coach Danny Nee, opens its season against Youngstown State on Nov. 13.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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