Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Hall’s Pope Moving Forward Because He Can’t Go Home
Herb Pope can’t go home.
The Seton Hall senior forward has a 4-year-old daughter named Hamari back home in Aliquippa, Pa, but Pope can’t go there to visit with her. He hasn’t returned to Aliquippa this year and only sees his daughter when family members bring her on trips to Seton Hall.
During his senior year at Aliquippa High School in 2007, Pope was shot four times during a party and now feels it’s unsafe to go back.
“No, it’s never safe to go home, especially with the circumstances and the environment down there but there’s nothing left there for me in Aliquippa,” Pope told SNY.tv during a phone interview Thursday.
“I think it’s time for me to put [those] years behind me.”
A source in the Aliquippa Police Dept. who requested anonymity said he was unaware of any threat of violence hanging over Pope, but said it’s just as well that he stays away.
“It’s probably better that he stays in Seton Hall because when he’s back home sometimes he has a tendency to hang around the wrong people,” the Police Dept. source said by phone. “There are people that he graduated with and stuff like that who live their life on the street and are a bad influence.”
Despite having almost died twice — once during the shooting and again in April 2010 when he collapsed at Seton Hall’s Walsh Gym due to an abnormal heart condition — Pope is playing arguably the best basketball of his life and now dreams of creating a better life for himself and his family.
“Whenever I can get financial stability and be able to provide a nice home for them somewhere,” Pope said, referring to his daughter and the baby’s mother, who he said attends community college in Aliquippa. “It doesn’t have to be out of state, but just out of the county and be a little closer to me so I can be able to maneuver and get home and not feel a threat when I go there.”
This semester, Pope achieved one of his primary goals in terms of his daughter by graduating from Seton Hall.
“For me to help provide for her, I accomplished my goal, which was graduating from college,” he said. “I feel like that put myself in a great position by being able to complete college.”
After spending seven intense weeks this summer training with former NBA coach John Lucas in the Houston heat, Pope hopes to be playing professional basketball somewhere next season — ideally in the NBA.
An early candidate for Big East Player of the Year, he currently leads the conference in both scoring (21.4 ppg) and rebounding (11.5 rpg) for a Pirates team that is off to its best start since the 1992-3 season. The surprising Pirates are 10-1 after Wednesday’s 69-64 victory at Dayton.
Pope’s eight double-doubles lead the nation and the 27 in his career are the most among active Big East players.
“He can definitely be drafted, no question,” one veteran NBA scout told SNY.tv. “If you lead the Big East in scoring and you’re at the top in rebounding, yeah, of course.
“It’s important in his personal life that he takes care of business. I’m sure he’s getting very good advice there and he needs to follow it.”
A second NBA scout called the 6-foot-8 Pope “undersized,” but added that he could make an NBA camp “for sure because of the numbers and playing [in] the Big East.”
Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said he has heard from multiple NBA scouts about Pope, but that he must educate them about Pope’s medical condition.
In 2010, Pope underwent heart surgery to deal with a birth defect — an anomalous right coronary artery – that Willard once said they “usually only find in an autopsy.”
“I’ve talked to a lot of NBA scouts, a lot of GMs and they all seem to have the same question,” Willard said Thursday. “Again, explaining what he went through last year and now the fact that he’s 100 percent, he’s probably healthier than he ever has been in his life. And that’s what they don’t know.
“Everybody knows he was in the hospital last year, but they don’t understand what he went through and the year he had not only physically but mentally recovering from that. And now that he’s mentally and physically fit, he’s playing the way that I envisioned that he could play.”
Despite the doubters, Willard believes Pope can play power forward in the NBA.
“Yeah, I think he could,” he said. “You look at the guys that are out there. With his great skill at rebounding, he is a terrific passer. [Wednesday] night he had five assists, one turnover. At the NBA level, it’s about defending your position. I think he can definitely defend that position. And also if he had to, he could play a little five because of the way he rebounds and I think he could be a mismatch problem at the next level.”
Pope realizes that there are many questions about his health, but he says he plans to be open and transparent with NBA scouts and executives about his past.
“[I’m] putting everything out there in the open, not hiding anything,” he said. “Being able to give them the records and documents from the various specialists that I’ve seen and let them know that I’m definitely OK and Seton Hall wouldn’t put me on the court [if I wasn’t OK]. They don’t want to be at-risk for anything, or jeopardize myself.
“We have nothing to hide. I’m willing to show everybody all our documents and the regular check-up that I go through. And if they need any further information to make sure that I’m OK, I’m willing to show that.”
As for his immediate goals, Pope doesn’t shy away from the fact that he’d like to be considered for Big East Player of the Year hardware.
“Oh, definitely,” he said. “When I went to Big East Media Day, the guys asked me about this guy and that guy and I kind of shrugged my shoulders and respected everybody as a candidate but I felt like I can be in those top-tier guys. And definitely with these guys behind me supporting and pushing me, I feel like the sky’s the limit.”
Pope also wants to lead his team to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006. The Pirates own wins over VCU, St. Joe’s, Auburn, Wake Forest and now at Dayton.
Both Jerry Palm and Joe Lunardi have Seton Hall among the last four teams into the Big Dance.
“Oh, absolutely,” he said. “Make the Tournament, but then definitely just trying to get to the Big East season and then worry about the Big East Tournament. I’ve never been to a championship game in the tournament, so that’s definitely one of our focal points as a team and we understand it’s a long way from now.
“But there’s no reason to practice and go through all the hard work we’ve gone through and not focus on trying to win a championship.”
Given all he’s been through, Pope may never be able to go back home.
But he will be able to move his family into a safer environment, and give them a better life.
“I hope to put myself in a little better position and be drafted [instead of] sitting there and fighting for a team and having to put my faith in somebody else’s hands,” he said. “I’d rather control my own destiny by playing well and if we win here, I feel like I position myself well.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.