A University of Utah basketball player was shot through the shoulder Thursday night after approaching the driver of a car who followed him and his family from a downtown res-taurant.

Paul Afeaki, 22, his wife and year-old son were leaving a restaurant parking lot at 730 E. 400 South, when one vehicle cut off another, Salt LakePolice Lt. Mark Zelig said.

Craig Rydalch, a teammate, said he visited with Afeaki at the hospital after the shooting. Afeaki told him that he and his family were coming out of a restaurant and may have cut another car off, but he wasn't sure.

The driver of the other car followed Afeaki and his family and kept flashing his lights. At 700 South and 1000 East the car stopped next to the Afeaki car.

When Afeaki got out of his car and approached the other car, the driver reportedly "rolled down the window and shot Paul with a semiautomatic pistol," Zelig said.

Rydalch said that Afeaki told him that the man pointed the gun at his upper body and he ducked when the gun fired and ran.

It was not known whether the shooting was related to Utah's victory in a basketball game with Wyoming less than two hours earlier. Afeaki is the Utes' backup center.

A neighbor of the family who called police when the wounded basketball player knocked at her door said Afeaki told her the gunman tried to shoot him in the face.

"He was breathing heavy and his eyes were fuzzy," she said. "I thought he was joking with me until I saw the blood on his hands."

A University Hospital nursing supervisor said the bullet entered Afeaki's left trapezius, the large muscle on top of his shoulder, and exited cleanly through the rear of the muscle.

"He's doing just fine; he doesn't need surgery," she said.

He was released from the hospital later Thursday evening.

"If it would have been 2 inches lower, it would have been a whole different story," Zelig said.

Officers were searching Thursday for the late-model Honda containing the gunman and his female passenger. Afeaki said he did not recognize the assailant nor his passenger.

"It's crazy that something like that can happen. It's hard to believe . . . I was able to talk to him he felt very lucky to be alive. He was shaken up pretty badly. All he could talk about was how lucky he was to be alive," Rydalch said.

Zelig said details were sketchy and police investigators were searching the scene of the shooting. "We only have Paul's side of it," he added.

University Hospital doctors said the 6-foot-10-inch junior, who joined the Runnin' Utes this year from Snow College, won't play basketball for at least a month.

He averages 14 points per game.