PITTSBURGH (AP) – Duquesne University forward Sam Ashaolu, one of five basketball players shot after a campus dance last weekend, was upgraded from critical to serious condition Friday and has begun to speak softly.

Ashaolu, the most seriously injured of the Dukes players, is the only one who remains hospitalized. Stuard Baldonado, a junior forward shot in the left arm and back, was released from Mercy Hospital late Friday afternoon – hours before his parents arrived from Colombia.

“It’s unbelievable the progress they’re making,” coach Ron Everhart told The Associated Press.

Family members said Ashaolu, sedated for much of the week, asked Thursday night about two of his brothers – the first words he is known to have spoken since being shot early Sunday morning. He also recognized himself, and a brother, while watching TV news accounts of the shooting.

Ashaolu initially asked about 17-year-old brother Olu, a high school junior in Texas who is considered one of the nation’s top basketball players in the class of 2008.

Ashaolu’s condition was upgraded less than a week after he was shot twice in the head – with one bullet splintering into several sections. The bullet fragments remain because it would be too risky to try to remove them due to the severe swelling from the wounds.

However, doctors removed a ventilator that was aiding Ashaolu’s breathing and a drain that was guiding fluids from his head. Doctors who spoke to Duquesne officials said both developments were significant given how badly Ashaolu was hurt.

Earlier in the week, Everhart said Ashaolu was fighting for his life.

“I think I’m witnessing a miracle,” Everhart said. “That he could make such progress so quickly is unbelievable. These are things the doctors were hoping for in two to three weeks.”

Because Ashaolu still has bullet fragments in his heads, doctors are not yet ready to make a prognosis for his recovery. If he should somehow be bumped or if the fragments would shift, there is a possibility he could regress.

“But we’ve seen nothing but progress,” Everhart said. “This shows you what a fighter Sam is, and what tough shape he’s in. The fact he is stable is a very big relief. We’re not out of the woods yet, but everything in the last 72 hours has been very uplifting.”

Ashaolu, Shawn James, Aaron Jackson, Kojo Mensah and Baldonado were shot as they returned to the dormitories and apartments following the dance. All but Jackson were new players who had arrived on campus only in the last few weeks.

Baldonado was initially listed in serious condition, but was upgraded to fair on Monday. A day later, he had a bullet removed from a patch of muscle just below the skin in his back.

His mother and father, who live on an island off the coast of Colombia, were due in town Friday night and will stay with the former Miami Dade College player as he continues his rehabilitation.

Duquesne is not ready to say Baldonado will miss the season, but back injuries like his normally take two to three months of rehabilitation.

Arrested and charged in the shootings earlier this week were William Holmes and Brandon Baynes, both 18 and of the Pittsburgh suburb of Penn Hills.

According to a criminal complaint, Brittany Jones, a 19-year-old Penn Hills resident, helped six men – several of whom she knew were carrying guns – to gain admission to a Black Student Union dance on Duquesne’s campus.

Jones was a Duquesne student – the two men were not – but was suspended for school after charges were filed.

Jones was released after posting $2,000 bail. Bail was set at $250,000 for Baynes, but it has not been posted and he remains in jail. Bail was denied Friday for Holmes.

The shootings took place shortly after the dance ended when, according to AP interviews with two players, several of the non-students apparently became upset when Jones began flirting with one of the Dukes players.

Several players have needed counseling after complaining they were unable to sleep well earlier in the week. The team resumed offseason conditioning drills Wednesday and Everhart was pleased with how the players responded to being back on the court.

“I think it’s been very therapeutic for them,” he said.


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