Tourney showcases return of Ashaolu

FRANK ZICARELLI -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:50 AM ET

Ro Russell recalls that fateful day as if it were yesterday.

For the grassroots basketball official, the early morning phone call that awakened him on Sept. 17 still resonates to this day.

"When you get a call at 4 a.m., you know something is up,'' Russell said. "There was a shooting and no one knew the extent of what happened to Sam."

Sam Ashaolu, whom Russell had met many years earlier, had just been shot in the head on the campus at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

A drive that normally involves five hours was reduced to four as Russell and members of Ashaolu's family arrived in Pittsburgh to provide support.

"When I saw Sam I didn't really know what to feel,'' Russell said. "This kid, who was so determined to play Division I basketball after going to prep school and junior college, was clinging to life."

While far from fully recovered, Ashaolu is able to lift light weights, has returned to his playing weight of 220 pounds and recently was able to dunk a basketball.

"It's really been dramatic,'' Russell said as he prepares for the first annual charity showcase event in support of Ashaolu. "He remembers everything. This is his redshirt year and he'll resume classes in mid-January. He can possibly play next year.

"The kid is a fighter and he never lost faith. So many people were praying for him. His mother, Christianah, is such a strong-willed person who kept encouraging Sam."

The idea to stage a charity event was a no-brainer for Russell, who has assembled an array of rising hoopsters from both sides of the border.

The two-day event, which takes place at York Memorial's Centennial Rec Centre, begins tonight.

"I just wanted to celebrate Sam's recovery,'' Russell said. "I wanted people to come out and see him. Sam will also get an opportunity to watch his younger brother."

Olu Ashaolu is one of those can't-miss prospects who will represent Texas-based Christian Life Academy.

One of Ashaolu's teammates is Toronto native Junior Cadougan, whose family is no stranger to gun violence. Another teammate to watch is seven-footer Deandre Jordan, one of the most highly touted high-schoolers in the U.S.

Local players to watch include Marvell Waithe and D.J. Wright (TAPS Prep), Jacob Gibson-Bascombe and Yoosrie Salhia (Eastern Prep), Alex Johnson and Ashley July (Vaughan Road), Devoe and Cory Joseph (Pickering), Adam Jespersen (London Beal) and Henry Carr's Curtis Trotter and Yonis Berhe.

Staff at Falstaff Community Centre, Grass Roots Canada, the Vaughan African Canadian Association, the Toronto Raptors, city councillor Anthony Perruzza and sponsors McDonald's and Reebok USA have worked alongside Russell in making this event a reality.

SAM ASHAOLU CHARITY SHOWCASE AT YORK MEMORIAL'S CENTENNIAL REC CENTRE

Today's games

Beal (London) vs Pickering, 5 p.m.

Christian Life Academy (Texas) vs Vaughan Road, 6:30 p.m.

TAPS Prep vs Beal, 8 p.m.

Tomorrow's games

Christian Life Academy vs Henry Carr, 12:30 p.m.

Vaughan Road vs Eastern Prep, 2 p.m.

Award presentation for Sam Ashaolu, 3:30 p.m.

Dunk-off, 4 p.m.

TAPS Prep vs Henry Carr, 5 p.m.

Pickering vs Eastern Prep, 6:30 p.m.

TAPS Prep vs Christian Life Academy, 8 p.m.

Day 1 admision: $3 for students; $5 for adults.

Day 2 admission: $5 for students; $10 for adults


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