Basketball / Rookie Enjoys Literal Second Lease on Life

Bnei Hasharon's Herb Pope was declared clinically dead in 2010 but recovered after four months.

Seton Hall graduate Herb Pope, one of Bnei Hasharon's latest acquisitions to bolster its lineup, is not only enjoying life after death but is also one of the few people on this planet with a press release about their passing.

"Seton Hall's basketball sophomore Herb Pope (Aliquippa, Pa. ) died on XXXday from complications following a cardiac event he suffered on April 28," read a press release prepared in 2010 by Seton Hall which was revealed by Sports Illustrated and is available on the Internet. "Late in the afternoon of Wednesday, April 28, Pope collapsed following a routine workout in the Ritchie Regan Athletic Center on the South Orange campus.

"Emergency personnel arrived immediately on the scene and transported the 6-foot-8 forward to Saint Barnabas Medical Center ... In his only season in a Seton Hall uniform, Herb Pope brought instant stability to the Pirates' frontcourt."

The notice goes on to mention that the then-21 year old had led the Big East conference his freshman season with 10.7 rebounds per game, and finished with 13 double-doubles.

St. John's sports information director, Matt Sweeney, prepared the press release while Pope was in a grave condition, hours after his heart had temporarily stopped, which led to him being declared clinically dead. Sports Illustrated brought the press release to light in January.

Pope told Haaretz over the weekend that he heard about the announcement but never saw it. He said strange things happen. The main thing is he is still alive, playing basketball, and excited to play for Bnei Hasharon.

Escaping the 'hood

The 23-year-old center has not had an easy life. Born in Aliquippa, he was the third of five children of criminal parents. His father, Herb Sr., spent considerable time in jail for various offenses, like aggravated assault, criminal trespassing, check forgery, theft and drug use. His mother did time for shoplifting, forgery and passing bad checks. The youngster bounced between foster families and friends until he was 10, when his paternal aunt took him under her wing.

Pope was discovered as a basketball talent at an early age. He was a high-school standout in Aliquippa and received offers from numerous prestigious colleges. He says he opted for modest New Mexico State because he wanted to be as far away as possible from the troubles of his neighborhood.

However, before he was able to get away from his home town, he suffered multiple gunshot wounds while leaving a party in March 2007. He refused to give a ride to another person at the party, and after a brief tussle the other person's cousin shot him twice in the abdomen. Marcus Longmire then shot him in the head, but Pope protected himself instinctively and took the bullet in his arm. The fourth hit his right shoulder. The fifth lodged in his thigh.

Pope managed to escape to nearby woods, crawling down a hill to reach a highway and find a lift to the hospital. He underwent four hours of surgery, and the two bullets in the abdomen remain in his body to this day. His left arm has a big scar on the outside and metal on the inside to hold it together. Pope says the metal does not bother him, and that he does not feel it.

Nine months after that incident, police found him asleep and under the influence of alcohol in his car. According to reports, the police had to use a siren and eventually break open the window to wake him up, after the car crept forward and crashed into a patrol car. Pope said he was not arrested but taken in for questioning.

Go East, young man

Pope played well his freshman year at New Mexico State, but in the final game of the season he was ejected for twice hitting his opponent. He says he switched to Seton Hall because he wanted to play in the Big East. After sitting out the 2007-08 season because he was ineligible as a transfer student, Pope became a star.

He says the last thing he remembers about the heart failure incident is waking up in the hospital a week later. It took him four months to recover. Doctors discovered a congenital heart defect but permitted him to return to basketball. Pope says he feels lucky because he has not missed a single game since returning. He says the incident caused him to stop "taking life for granted."

Pope averaged a double-double in his final season this past year with 15.1 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, but did not try out for the NBA. He says he is not interested in discussing the NBA.

He signed with Bnei Hasharon in July and says he hopes soon to bring over his girlfriend and their 4-year-old daughter. Even alone, though, he says he is enjoying himself in Israel. He describes Herzliya as a beautiful town and says he has the opportunity to play with good teammates, a wonderful manager and outstanding coaches.

Pope notes the team is working hard every day, coming together as a unit. The rookie adds he wants to win a title and then see what's next.

Herb Pope.