Near death 2 months ago, Duquesne player hopes to return to court

November 13th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Near death 2 months ago, Duquesne player hopes to return to court


Associated Press

PITTSBURGH - Shooting baskets with friends and watching his Duquesne teammates practice is enough now for Sam Ashaolu. Two months ago, he lay near death with two bullets in his brain.
But in not too long he wants to play for the Dukes in a game that counts, not pickup ball with friends or rehab specialists.
"I hope to get 100 percent soon and get back on the court real soon," Ashaolu said at a news conference Monday, altering his words slightly from the statement he planned to read. He did not take questions from reporters.
Ashaolu, the most seriously injured of the five Duquesne players shot Sept. 17 following an on-campus party, appeared in public for the first time since what university president Charles J. Dougherty called an "unpredictable and unprecedented" attack that shook the downtown Pittsburgh school's normally peaceful campus.
Ashaolu transferred to Duquesne after graduating from Lake Region State in Devils Lake, N.D., where he led the Lake Region team in scoring.
Ashaolu, 23, talks with a slight hesitation and needs long months of additional rehabilitation to regain anything approximating a normal life. One bullet was removed, but the other splintered into the cerebellum, which controls balance and movement, and the parietal lobe, which controls spatial orientation and speech.
The problem areas affect not only his day-to-day activities, but are critical to an athlete's performance. Also, doctors currently have no plans to remove the bullet fragments, saying the damaged areas of the brain will naturally scar over.
Unless the bullets shift - which could occur with the contact common on a basketball court, for example - no additional surgery is anticipated.
Still, asked if it is possible Ashaolu might play competitive basketball again, Mercy Hospital medical director Dr. Gary Goldberg said, "I'm hopefully optimistic. It's only been seven weeks. ... What will happen in seven months? We'd like to see it (his progress) continue. Nothing has been ruled out here."
However, it may be months, if not a year or more until doctors can reliably say if Ashaolu's athletic and academic career can continue. He has trouble speaking at length, and is not yet ready to handle the complexities of a college textbook, a detailed class project or a full-court press.
"We have a lot of work yet to do with Sam. There's no questioning the fact he's made excellent progress to date, but there's much yet to do to get Sam back into shape from a physical and cognizant prospective," Goldberg said. "He's a quiet fighter. No big show, no end-zone dances, just a lot of hard work and a polite path to victory."
Athletic director Greg Amodio said those who saw Ashaolu clinging to life hours after the shootings marvel daily at his discernible, never-slowing recovery and how it has inspired the teammates who opened their season Monday night against Youngstown State.
"To see where Sam is now, based on those first few days, is truly a miracle," Amodio said.
Dougherty said, "His remarkable progress is an inspiration to all of us. It's been a truly miraculous outcome for Sam and his family."
Neither Ashaolu nor older brother, John, a Duquesne graduate assistant, addressed the specific problems Sam anticipates in the coming months. Sam Ashaolu, from suburban Toronto, limited his brief comments mostly to thanking his doctors, family and teammates for their support.
"I'd like to thank my family for coming around and being with me and all of my friends coming around to see how I am, everybody at Duquesne and my coaches, praying for me and sending me stuff. My mom, and everybody," he said. "Everybody around the country for praying for me."
This comeback, from near death, looks to be over for Ashaolu. Now, he is driven by making another to the basketball court, as are the other three Dukes players rehabilitating from gunshot wounds: forward Shawn James and guard Kojo Mensah, who transferred from other major colleges and are ineligible this season, and junior college forward transfer Stuard Baldonado, the top incoming recruit who may not play this season.
Ashaolu is already back into the game, attending practices regularly and correcting teammates when he thinks they aren't hustling.
"That hard work is paying off, but there are no promises, no guarantees regarding what the future will bring," Goldberg said. "If the recent path gives us a reasonable sense of what the future holds ... there's no telling what can be achieved."

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