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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Where In The World Is Herb Pope? Coming To A Court Near You

A little while back I took a look at the situation of New Mexico State freshman forward Herb Pope, a kid with a terrible past but unbelievable talent. I've been especially interested in Pope because he is the exact type of player I love to watch, a versatile forward with a smooth, inside-outside game and great athleticism. But it's that past and the struggle to overcome it that provides an added element. There are certainly talented players from bad neighborhoods, but the extremes of Pope's story and his talent made him stick out.

Anyway, in that piece I said that Pope would get his act together in Cruces, far away from his hometown of Alquippia, PA, and even though he wasn't cleared by the NCAA to play yet, that simply being in college could be a life-changing experience. Well, I may have misspoken. Pope headed back home for Christmas and got a DUI. He is 19, don't forget, so that is a bit of a problem. Apparently he passed out in a traffic lane with the car running, a fairly impressive DUI indeed.
Officers found the 19-year-old Pope unresponsive in the driver's seat with the engine running in the Pittsburgh suburb of Moon Township on Dec. 28.

According to the criminal complaint, police had to pound on the driver's side window with a flashlight and turn on a cruiser's siren to awaken Pope. The car then lurched forward, bumping into the police cruiser, and an officer then smashed the driver's side window with a flashlight and turned off the ignition.

And while that seemed to mark the end of Pope's season, miraculously he was cleared by the NCAA and (holds breath), after serving a one-game suspension for the DUI (served Saturday's game I believe), could play this weekend against Louisiana Tech.

Clearly Pope's troubled past is more influential now than I had expected. It's worth noting that the DUI happened back in his hometown, a place that obviously has a negative effect on Pope, so his decision to go to New Mexico State is still an honorable one. But at some point a kid has to realize the amazing opportunity he has been given and do everything in his power to take full advantage of it. Maybe the fact that, as he was waiting for eligibility, he didn't have basketball to serve as a distraction and couldn't fully appreciate the chance he was getting, but now that the game is back in his life, there aren't going to be second chances. Yes, in the twisted world of college basketball, talent can grant immunity in the face of the law, the education system and the judicial system, but at some point that talent will run out. So it's on Pope, and certainly on the Aggies' coaching staff which is supposed to be molding these young men, to use that talent to become a better person first, and a better player second.

His lone TV game is January 26, 6 p.m., home against Utah State on ESPN2 and I am excited to watch because, even though he's been shot and hasn't played a game in nine months, Herb Pope is an absolutely sick player. Now whether he can get to Jan. 26 without screwing up is another story.



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