Ashaolu at home on the hard court

FRANK ZICARELLI -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:33 PM ET

From the moment he entered the gym on Friday for a charity hoops tournament that bears his name, Sam Ashaolu became the centre of attention.

It's a role that doesn't fit Ashaolu's low-key persona, but one he gladly embraced.

Yesterday, it was Ashaolu's turn to shine the spotlight on the many people who came out to celebrate this young man's courageous recovery from a near-fatal shooting incident.

"I just want to thank everyone,'' Ashaolu began as the first annual Sam Ashaolu charity showcase wrapped up at York Memorial. "There are a lot of people praying for me throughout the country.

"A lot of people are here for a tournament named after me and hopefully they can come next year."

Exactly three months ago today, Ashaolu was clinging to life following a shooting incident at Duquesne University that left two bullets lodged in Ashaolu's head.

While the fragments remain in his skull, Ashaolu has vowed to return to the hardwood, hoping to one day complete his dream of playing Division I basketball.

With several high-profiled prospects appearing in his honour, including Ashaolo's younger brother Olu, Sam Ashaolo said it wasn't hard watching players get up and down the floor, get off their shots and make passes.

"It's just hard when I watch my team at Duquesne play,'' he said softly. "I just see a lot of people having fun, enjoying the good competition here at this tournament."

Ashaolu spent one year at York Memorial and the inevitable flashbacks came into focus.

"It takes me back to a different time in my life,'' he said. "When I played here we had a pretty good team. It takes me back down memory lane."

Olu Ashaolu was very proud at the way his older brother handled the attention and fanfare.

"He's not comfortable in the limelight,'' the 17-year-old Olu, who has an NBA body, said. "He handled it well. He was given a warm welcome and it was nice to see the city, the community, come out."

Sam and Olu's mom, Christianah, couldn't avoid the media attention, either.

Like Sam, she thanked the countless people who prayed for her son and the volunteers and organizers who put together the two-day charity basketball event.

"It feels good knowing people love me, my son and my family,'' Christianah said. "I just thank God. I know Toronto people are so kind and that Toronto people care.


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