- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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At age 21, Seton Hall sophomore Herb Pope has already survived bullet wounds, fathered a child, transferred colleges and been subjected to criticism and slurs after committing a dirty foul in front of television cameras. And now he is in a New Jersey hospital as family and friends come to visit and wait, hoping once again for the best.
Seton Hall released a statement early Thursday afternoon in response to numerous questions about Pope's status. "Seton Hall sophomore men's basketball player Herb Pope collapsed [Wednesday] afternoon and was taken to the hospital," assistant athletics director Matt Sweeney said. "We will release more information as it becomes available."
The Seton Hall campus paper, the Setonian, had statements from Michcella Tiscornia, a sophomore who said she saw Pope as he was being taken out of the rec center through an adjacent hallway.
"I was in a classroom and turned around ... there were maybe four or five people and the guy on the stretcher," Tiscornia told the Setonian. "There were at least three EMTs."
Although there has been no official word, several reports have characterized the situation as serious.
It is another twist in a complicated life. With two parents who were unavailable in ways a young child could never understand, Pope was raised by his aunt, Amy Pope-Smith. He grew into a basketball prodigy, a 6-foot-8, 236-pound power forward who could write a ticket out of his hometown of Aliquippa, Pa., much the way NFL cornerback Darrelle Revis did a few years before him.
Pope's plan was nearly derailed when he was shot four times late one Aliquippa night, March 31, 2007, while trying to leave a party. One of the bullets was aimed at his head, but hit his forearm as he reflexively raised his right arm. It took him a long time to stop feeling angry about the way it happened -- a fight he didn't start with a man whose friend had a gun -- but Pope later came to see that he put himself in a bad situation.
Problem was, that wasn't the last time. That December, in the middle of his freshman season with New Mexico State, Pope was found by authorities behind the wheel of a car in a traffic lane; the car was running but Pope was unresponsive. The police had to break the window to get him out. He was 18 and charged with driving under the influence.
The coach who recruited him to New Mexico State, Reggie Theus, left for the Sacramento Kings and Pope sought his release from the school and transferred to Seton Hall in 2008. He sat out a year, as required by NCAA rules, and has two years of eligibility remaining.
That decision to leave New Mexico came around the time Pope found out he was going to be a father. His 2-year-old daughter, Hamari, is a regular visitor to the campus, and Pope makes the trip home to see her when he can.
In some ways, the year might have been a turning point. He averaged 11.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and two assists for the Pirates, but in the last game of the season he punched Texas Tech's Darko Cohadarevic below the belt, twice, during an NIT loss to the Red Raiders.
For that, Pope was ejected, and public opinion came down hard.
The incident was detailed in numerous stories as the school severed ties with coach Bobby Gonzalez after the season. Patrick Hobbs, the dean of the Seton Hall Law School, cited the school's image in a statement after Gonzalez was forced out.
"Performance and success are not measured solely by wins and losses, but also in the conduct of those associated with the program," Hobbs said.
Just two weeks later, on March 29, Pope declared for the NBA draft but had not yet hired an agent. That chaotic moment seemed to have calmed. He has until May 8 to retract his declaration and return to Seton Hall for his junior year, and has been working out with new coach Kevin Willard and his staff.
As many chapters as might have been written for Pope going forward, this one was unexpected. As far as can be discerned, it is not an act of violence, nor a moment of poor judgment that has brought him to this moment.
And a family, and a college community, are hoping that this will be another frightening situation for Pope, from which he ultimately rebounds.
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