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Vol. 44, No. 3 • March 2007 • .pdf version
Duquesne is a worthy Most Courageous Award winner
By DICK JERARDI / Philadelphia Daily News
No matter what is going down on the court, at practice, in recruiting, every coach will tell you that he is one phone call away from disaster. It could be a player getting arrested. It could be a player getting in an accident. It could be a player becoming ineligible. It could be almost anything.
What it could never be, until the early morning hours of Sept. 17, was the call Duquesne coach Ron Everhart got. He was told five of his players had been shot outside a college dance event. Within minutes, he was out the door on his way to Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh.
"When I was driving to that hospital, the feeling that I had getting out of that car, I just remember kind of looking up before I went in that emergency room and saying 'God, please don't let this be as bad as it looks like it is,'" Everhart said.
Each year, the United States Basketball Writers Association "recognizes a player, coach, official or administrator who has demonstrated extraordinary courage reflecting honor on the sport of amateur basketball."
Through the years, there have been so many memorable winners, but nothing quite like this. Which is why the USBWA is honoring all of the Duquesne players and its coaching staff with the 2007 Most Courageous Award.
When he was told of the honor, Everhart, in his first season at Duquesne, said: ``You don't think of yourself or your basketball team as ever being involved in a situation or being a position to get an award like this that you see every year at the Final Four ... I've never envisioned myself or our basketball as being that."
But they were that, the very definition of courageous. Sam Ashaolu was shot twice in the head. His life was in danger. He is on a fast track to a miracle.
"When you use the word courageous, there's nothing that can describe him more than brave, courageous, those types of things," Everhart said. "I think Dr. Goldberg, the guy who treated him, said it the best, 'quiet fighter.' No end zone dances, nothing fancy, just hard work every day. That one part of it has just been an embodiment of the fight, the courage, the determination not just to live, but to get back and become healthy and have a chance to play basketball."
Ashaolu is "back on his feet, talking, interacting, out of the hospital and in the treatment process," Everhart said. "I don't know in my life that I've ever seen anything like it. There's probably no other way to describe other than a miracle."
Ashaolu remains in rehabilitation to improve his speech and memory. He was released from the hospital at Christmas time.
"There really has been no talk about where he goes from here because nobody expected him to get here," Everhart said. "Every day, he is breaking new ground with this thing in terms of what the doctors think. One of the physical therapists said it the best: 'When he came here, there was no way anybody would have thought that he would ever move beyond having to have 24-hour supervision.' Well, in however many weeks it's been, he doesn't even have to have that now. He's surpassed all the best case scenarios."
Stuard Baldonaldo had very significant injuries to his spinal area. He is back practicing a little, but had to miss the season.
"He's in the gym after practice, shooting the ball," Everhart said. "He's got some things to overcome. The bullet passed through the bottom of the third vertebrae, misses his spinal cord by a centimeter."
That was after the bullet went through an artery that eventually had to be replaced by a vein. He was having trouble with his left arm but is nearing full strength in the arm's extremities.
"His biggest obstacle is that when he bangs around and runs, he's just going to be sore for a while," Everhart said. "His body just has to continue to heal and overcome that. He's been amazing also. His recovery was so quick. He was out of the hospital in five days."
Aaron Jackson, recovered from relatively minor wounds and is playing this season. Two players, Kojo Mensah and Shawn James, have recovered, but, as transfers, were not going to play this season.
Two 18-year-old men were charged in the shootings that apparently happened because one of the players was speaking with a female Duquesne student, apparently the girlfriend of one of the shooters. How that led to 12 shots being fired is a commentary of our society. What happened next is a commentary on the human spirit.
"You look at it now and realize how much worse it could have been, how tragic it could have been." Everhart said. "It's just been one success story after another. You almost feel like someone is looking out for you when it works out this way."
Five months after the shooting, life is back to what passes for normal.
"It's been such a blur and been such a day-to-day thing, sometimes you don't really see the big picture out there and everything that everybody's been through," Everhart said.
A season after going 3-24, Duquesne somehow fielded a team. The team is not getting this award for its on-court performance, but for simply finding a way to persevere. But if there were an award for team of the year, the Dukes would get that too.
They were 5-10, averaging 68.6 ppg when Everhart took conventional wisdom and threw it into all three of Pittsburgh's rivers. He decided his team, down to 10 players, would press, run and shoot threes for 40 minutes. The Dukes miraculously won five straight while averaging nearly 100 ppg.
The coaches showed the way. The players did it.
"They've been very mature about the way they've gone about handling the adversity, but they've also been very resilient and determined not to allow that to let them drop their chin or not have their chest out and feel good about representing Duquesne and doing what we all came here to do," Everhart said.
From the moment he got that phone call, Everhart has been singularly focused.
"At the time obviously, you're feeling very responsible for all this because you're the guy who convinced these guys to come here," he said. "My thought process was always make sure these young men and these families that are going through this, that you are there for them all the time and that they are treated like you would want to be treated if this was something happening to you or your family."
There is no way, the coach said, to prepare for "a kid to walk in, he's teared up, he's emotional, he's talking about he can't sleep and he can't eat. Those are the types of things you never think about, you don't talk about."
The bonds that have been formed between players and coaches, players and players, Everhart said "has created relationships on a human level that I don't know they exist at a lot of basketball programs or in a lot of basketball environments." Or anywhere.
Which is why the Duquesne players and coaches have won the USBWA Most Courageous Award.
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