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USC standout sprinter shot in the legs

Bryshon Nellum, 19, former track star at Long Beach Poly, is expected to recover. Assailants get away.

November 02, 2008|Esmeralda Bermudez and rong-gong lin ii | Bermudez and Lin are Times staff writers.

One of USC's top track athletes, who set state records as a high school sprinter in Long Beach, is in the hospital after being shot three times in the legs a few blocks from the school, police said.

Bryshon Nellum, 19, was walking out of a restaurant at Vermont Avenue near West Adams Boulevard with a few other people about 2 a.m. Friday when several men drove by in a car. One of them may have yelled a gang slogan before opening fire, Los Angeles Police Officer Sam Park said Saturday.

He said police had no suspects and did not know whether the gunman targeted Nellum's legs. "When you shoot, you tend to shoot lower than your target, or they might have targeted his legs," Park said. "We don't know."

Nellum was hit once in each thigh and in one of his hamstrings, Park said. He underwent surgery at California Hospital Medical Center, where he was in stable condition.

His doctor, Gudata Hinika, said that it was difficult to say whether the athlete will regain his world-class speed but that after physical therapy, Nellum could be back on the track in three months.

"I expect him to recover and get back to his activities in the future, hopefully," Hinika said, adding that Nellum was in good spirits and surrounded by family.

In an interview on a USC website earlier this year, Nellum talked about his legs being the key to his myriad medals, records and a college scholarship. The muscular 6-footer also played wide receiver on the football team at Long Beach Polytechnic High School. He considered playing for USC, but at the 170 pounds he played at in high school, he worried about risking injury in college.

"I'm thinking about getting my legs insured," he joked in the article. "The scariest parts about track are getting hurt and getting beat."

The 2007 high school graduate was the first athlete in state history to win six track titles. He had the fastest high school times nationwide for the 200- and 400-meter races last year, 20.43 and 45.54, respectively. He was selected the Gatorade National Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year.

USC track coach Ron Allice said Nellum was the fastest 19-and-under runner in the world at 400 meters.

His grandfather, Elroy Hughes, said Nellum was not in a gang and did not have enemies in high school or college.

"Someone tried to take him out and didn't succeed," he said. "Was it jealousy? Was it anger because he's popular and he's doing a good thing in life? I just can't relate to why one would want to do that."

Hughes said his grandson was in a positive mood as he was wheeled into the operating room Friday. He said Nellum, who started running track when he was 7, was born into a family of track stars, including his grandfather and two great-uncles.

He liked to go to the park and race Hughes, who said his own track records put him in Roosevelt High School's hall of fame. It wasn't until Nellum was in the 11th grade that his grandson finally beat him, Hughes said.

"As he got older, he just got faster and faster," Hughes said.

Allice said that the team was devastated after hearing about the shooting and that he hopes Nellum will be able to return to sprinting after he recovers.

He described Nellum as a congenial young man and the most talented athlete in the program.

Phones at the office had not stopped ringing, he said, as coaches and runners from across the country called to check on Nellum's condition.

"This is his passion, this is his gift," Allice said. "To not be able to exhibit that gift would be a tragedy. We are all committed to the fact that he will be back, and he will prove he can."

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esmeralda.bermudez @latimes.com

ron.lin@latimes.com

Times staff writer Eric Sondheimer contributed to this report.

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