Pittsburgh Duquesne forward Sam Ashaolu, the only one of five injured basketball players still hospitalized after last month's shootings, was moved from a critical care unit into rehabilitation Monday.
Ashaolu spent several days fighting for his life with multiple gunshot wounds to the head following the Sept. 17 on-campus shootings, but is progressing faster than expected at Mercy Hospital. Doctors initially thought that he would still be on a ventilator at this stage of his recovery.
"This is a great sign," Duquesne coach Ron Everhart said Monday. "This is a big step in the right direction. This is terrific news after only two weeks."
Ashaolu, a 23-year-old junior college transfer who grew up in Toronto, was shot several weeks after enrolling at Duquesne. Whether he can play basketball again is uncertain, but he is walking with assistance and became increasingly responsive over the weekend following a procedure to clear up a sinus infection.
Doctors felt the infection was causing Ashaolu to run a fever, and his temperature has dropped since the procedure was performed. Ashaolu's older brother, John, said Sam was able to talk clearly with younger brother Olu over the weekend after the anesthesia given him during the procedure wore off.
"It's the clearest conversation he's had yet," John Ashaolu said.
Doctors are uncertain how long Sam Ashaolu must spend in rehabilitation, but have told Duquesne officials they are pleased with his progress so far. A surgeon removed a bullet fragment from Ashaolu's head Sept. 25, slightly more than a week after the shootings, but several other fragments remain.
The other four injured players have returned to classes, although three - center Shawn James, guard Kojo Mensah and forward Stuard Baldonado - still cannot practice as their wounds heal. James and Mensah were ineligible to play this season after transferring from other Division I schools but can practice when they are healed.
Duquesne will open preseason practice Oct. 13 without Ashaolu or Baldonado, a 6-7 forward who also transferred from a junior college. Baldonado faces several months of rehabilitation and recovery after being shot in the back and left arm and is likely to be redshirted to preserve his two seasons of eligibility.
During their preseason workouts, Duquesne players have been wearing wristbands with the number "5," symbolic not only of the number of shooting victims but of the number Ashaolu planned to wear this season.