|Duquesne's Baldonado, nearly paralyzed by shooting, looks strong|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 22 August 2007 11:42|
The bullet that pierced the Duquesne University power forward's back missed his spinal column by one-quarter inch after severing an artery in his left elbow. If the bullet had struck his spine, the 6-foot-7 player's career and his normal life would have been over.
``That was the big thing. I was like real close to being paralyzed,'' Baldonado said, shaking his head at the memory.
With the first anniversary of the Sept. 17 campus shootings approaching, Baldonado and the other four Duquesne players shot that night following a campus party are getting on with their lives and careers.
Shawn James (foot) and Kojo Mensah (arm, shoulder), two transfers who were ineligible a season ago, are practicing along with Baldonado and Aaron Jackson, who was only grazed by a bullet and didn't have his career interrupted.
The 6-10 James, the nation's leading shot blocker for Northeastern two years ago, has an occasional pang of foot pain from a wound that required surgery. Otherwise, he came through the ordeal well.
Sam Ashaolu, the most seriously injured player with gunshot wounds to the head that nearly killed him, is making a strong recovery and has resumed playing pickup games and taking classes. He will not play this season.
Baldonado also sustained nerve damage in his left arm that initially worried doctors. Baldonado plays a physical, can't-push-me-around game and, on the court, needs the arm for positioning and to rebound.
``At one point last year ... I didn't have a lot of sensation in that hand but as the year was going by, I started having sensation again and I started recovering well,'' Baldonado said. ``So I knew at some point I was going to play again. ... I have regular motion now and it doesn't bother me.''
If coach Ron Everhart was worried Baldonado wouldn't be the physical presence he was while averaging nearly 19 points and 10 rebounds at Miami Dade College two seasons ago, those fears were erased in the opening minutes of preseason practice Monday.
The Dukes will play four games in Toronto during the Labor Day weekend, so NCAA rules allow them to practice in advance of the trip.
Baldonado positioned himself perfectly under the basket and, as the taller James went up for a putback, Baldonado deftly blocked the shot. On the next possession, he boxed out James and got the rebound.
``He's one of the strongest rebounders I've ever seen,'' Everhart said. ``He looks great, and I think he's a stronger guy than when he signed here.''
Still, Baldonado, a native of Colombia, knows how worse the shootings - and his life - could have been.
He was shot only a couple of blocks from a major city hospital with a trauma unit, which meant he was being cared for within minutes of being wounded. The 250-pound Baldonado was also fortunate that Jackson had the strength to gather him up, put him inside his car and drive to the hospital, after teammate Stephen Wood applied a tourniquet to his badly bleeding arm. Had they been further away, Baldonado might have bled to death before getting medical help.
These days, those scary moments are fading from Baldonado's mind.
``I'm still out there hitting, banging around, so I feel like I'm still there. I still got that toughness in me,'' he said. ``I've been doing good, so I know I've recovered a lot. I'm out of shape a little bit, but I know by the time the season starts that coach Everhart will have me in pretty good shape.''
Baldonado's injuries led to one unusual circumstance: a player competing for the school he is suing.
At the urging of family members, Baldonado filed a lawsuit in April alleging that Duquesne failed to provide proper security for him and others at the school party that preceded the shootings. The two men accused of shooting at the players were not Duquesne students.
The suit also claims the shootings caused severe and permanent injuries that will affect Baldonado's ability to make a living as a pro basketball player, either in the NBA or overseas.
Whereas Ashaolu and his family kept private their dealings with the university to assure his long-term care and post-college financial stability, Baldonado chose to proceed with a public suit.
``I don't want to get into that right now,'' said Baldonado, who prefers to focus on the season and his academic work. ``I just don't want to get into that.''
He's looking forward to the season he never doubted he would play, even during those six days he was hospitalized.
``I was thinking then that I'm a tough guy, so I've just got to recover well. That's what it's going to take for me to come back,'' he said. ``Now I can't wait for the season to be started, that's what I've been here for, that's what I came here for.''