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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."

"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. 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."
-- Neuropsychologist Hilly Rubinsky

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.