Duquesne's Ashaolu cleared to practice, likely to play again
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
By Alan Robinson, The Associated Press
If the slumping Duquesne Dukes need a motivational lift going into the Atlantic 10 tournament, perhaps Sam Ashaolu will provide it.
Ashaolu's basketball future, and his life, were very much in doubt only a few months ago, but he is expected to rejoin the Dukes on the court in a few weeks.
Ashaolu, who nearly died Sept. 17 after being one of five Dukes players shot following an on-campus party, has been cleared to resume on-court activity despite still having the fragments of two bullets in his head.
Once the Dukes' informal offseason workouts begin, the 6-foot-7 Ashaolu is planning to scrimmage and take part in drills.
He also expects to resume taking classes this summer, another milestone that wasn't expected nearly so soon, if it all. He needs an NCAA medical waiver to work out with the Dukes until he is re-enrolled, but that is not expected to be a problem considering the circumstances.
The former North Dakota junior college player will needs time to regain his on-court reflexes, quickness and mobility, but it now seems likely he can practice next season. If he receives NCAA clearance for an additional season or seasons of eligibility beyond the normal limit, he could play again in the 2008-09 season.
"Just watching him is the biggest win a coach could have ever have, knowing where he was medically and the improvement he's made in five short months," Duquesne coach Ron Everhart said. "It's really amazing and truly is a miracle."
That the 24-year-old Ashaolu lived was considered remarkable by his doctors -- some did not expect him to make it through the first 24 hours after being shot in the back of the head. As he clung precariously to life for several days, family members were warned he might need supervised around-the-clock care the rest of his life.
Instead, Ashaolu not only got better very quickly, he has surprised his doctors by improving every month.
At a Nov. 13 news conference, Mercy Hospital neurosurgeon Daniel Bursick cautioned that while Ashaolu's recovery was encouraging, there were "no promises, no guarantees" for the future. Other doctors warned his progress might soon level off.
Last week, however, Bursick told older brother John Ashaolu that Sam could start doing whatever he wanted to do.
"I asked the doctor, 'Do you mean, like physical contact?' and he said, 'Yeah,'" said John Ashaolu, a Duquesne graduate assistant. "He was almost nonchalant about it. Sam is healing pretty well, and he's still in the process of healing, but if he feels he's up to it, he can go ahead and do it."
There was additional encouraging medical news last week, too -- the swelling around the bullet fragments has gone down considerably.
"I feel very optimistic that he's definitely going to play again," John Ashaolu said. "He's almost back to normal. He's regaining his form. I see him working out and I'm very encouraged by what I see."
So is Everhart, who has never seen signs of the anticipated slowdown in Ashaolu's recovery.
"When I hear people talk about Sam not playing basketball because of the injury, I just look at him and think that nobody is going to deny him that," Everhart said. "I just see the determination and his work ethic. ... I expect him to come back and play some day."
Every week, it seems his teammates have another Sam story to tell. Last week, they were surprised when he bettered Shawn James and Kojo Mensah, two transfers who are currently ineligible, in an informal shooting contest before practice.
"I don't know that I've ever been around anyone who is as inspiring or as motivating in terms of the obstacles this young man has overcome -- the courage and the determination he's shown," Everhart said.
Sam Ashaolu wonders what all the fuss is about, since he has never doubted he would play again. He hasn't been in pain for months and is gradually regaining his strength.
"I've just been waiting to get back on the court," he said. "The hardest part has been the sitting, having to watch every day, not being out there."
The U.S. Basketball Writers Association will present the Dukes with its Most Courageous Award at the Final Four in Atlanta on April 2. The award reflects not only the strong recoveries made by Ashaolu and Stuard Baldonado, the other player seriously injured in the shootings, but the how the Dukes put together a string of five consecutive upset victories earlier this season.
The Dukes (10-18) take a seven-game losing streak into Wednesday night's Atlantic 10 tournament game against Saint Louis (18-12) in Atlantic City, N.J., but at least they're playing. Last season, they didn't make the tournament field after going 3-24 under former coach Danny Nee.
That's why, to Everhart, there may never have been a more inspiring 10-win team. He said Sam Ashaolu's comeback is partly responsible for the Dukes' strong mind-set and determination.
"To be around Sam every day, he's been motivating and inspirational to me and something that has impacted my life," Everhart said. "Anyone who has seen what Sam has had to endure would be a changed man, and he's certainly done that for me."