Pope shooting goes 'way beyond basketball'

Kevin Gorman
| Sunday, April 1, 2007

The early Saturday morning shooting of Herb Pope reverberated from Aliquippa to Atlanta.

The Aliquippa High School basketball star was shot twice in the lower abdomen, once in the thigh and once in the right arm, wounds that required surgery but aren't believed to be life-threatening, Aliquippa Police Chief Ralph Pallante said.

While Pope, 18, was recovering yesterday at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, the basketball world wondered how it would affect his life and career.

News of Pope's plight reached Atlanta, site of the NCAA Final Four, where New Mexico State coach Reggie Theus could only hope his prized recruit "is OK and makes a full recovery."

"This goes way beyond basketball," Theus said in a statement. "It is way too early to know a lot right now. We just hope that he is OK."

It also touched Duquesne basketball coach Ron Everhart, whose team suffered through the Sept. 17 on-campus shooting of five Dukes players after a dance. Forward Sam Ashaolu, the most critically injured, continues to undergo rehabilitation with bullet fragments lodged in his brain.

"I'm very, very sad to hear about a tragedy like this," Everhart said. "It's just becoming much too common these days. I know how difficult it must be and my heart goes out to Herb and his family. Anything we can do to be of assistance, we'd love to do it. Our thoughts and prayers are with him, and we hope he'll have a healthy recovery."

Everhart, who was at the Final Four, said tragedies such as those in Aliquippa and involving his team "could happen any time, any place."

For several of Pope's former teammates with the Pittsburgh J.O.T.S. traveling basketball club, the shooting served as a reminder of the fragility of life. Schenley stars DeJuan Blair and D.J. Kennedy visited Pope at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital yesterday morning upon hearing the news.

J.O.T.S. founder J.O. Stright said Kennedy's older brother survived after being shot nine times; Blair lost his best friend, Antonio Hampton, to a shooting last July, and was moved to tears after seeing Pope hospitalized.

"He was dazing out," Blair said. "It's real hard, man. I hope he comes back 100 percent."

After a troubled childhood that saw him bounce back and forth from foster homes to relatives and from school to school, Pope finally found a sense of stability at Aliquippa.

Pope was a three-time Associated Press Class AA all-state selection, was named the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's 2006 Boys Basketball Player of the Year and led the Quips to successive WPIAL Class AA championships. His high school career ended last Saturday with a 68-66 loss to Prep Charter in the PIAA Class AA championship, a game in which Pope scored 15 points but fouled out.

Although his career ended on a sour note, the 6-foot-9, 230-pound Pope was considered one of the most talented big men in recent Western Pennsylvania history. He was named to the PARADE All-America fourth team last week, and he was scheduled to leave yesterday for Chicago, where he was to play for the West All-Stars in the 43rd Roundball Classic at the United Center.

Despite being considered a top-50 talent nationally, Pope signed with New Mexico State after many schools backed away because of his off-court troubles. There was hope that a change of scenery would help Pope. Now, Blair can only hope that Pope recovers and makes it out of town.

"Everybody says, 'Why New Mexico State?' and stuff, so I was kind of glad," Blair said. "I want him to get out right now. There's a lot of people that like to hate. We're pursuing careers. He's got a chance to go to the NBA if he gets out."

Staff writers Tricia Lafferty, Dave Mackall and Rick Wills contributed to this story.

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