It seems like Herb pope is trying his best to be the Van Wilder of Seton Hall, it feels like he’s been there for about 10 seasons. His seemingly long stay is finally culminating into a All-American worthy final season. It hasn’t been an easy road but Pope has fought through adversity and become one of the better players in the country.
Pope was a top-tier recruit out of Pennsylvania, but hadn’t lived up to the hype until this season. Saying his career, up until this season, has been rocky is an understatement. He was shot four times in the spring before his freshman year at New Mexico State; he was charged with a DUI after passing out behind the wheel of a car in Las Cruces; and he later transferred into Bobby Gonzalez’s house of dysfunction (Seton Hall). Pope’s sophomore year there concluded with him punching a player in the crotch during an NIT game. Then prior to last season he suffered a near-fatal collapse, brought on by a previously undiagnosed birth defect known as an Anomalous Right Coronary Artery.
Pope would take time to get back to 100 percent. But like everyone else, Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard assumed that would be only a matter of time.
However that never happend.
“I went into last year understanding what he had gone through physically,” Coach Willard said ”But I think it took me a long time to understand the mental aspect of what he had gone through. And I think what everyone is kind of seeing this year is that he’s back physically. But the most important thing is he’s really back mentally.”
While it may have taken him longer to get healthy and back to playing like he was capable, this season has been redemption for his struggles last season.
Going into this season no one knew what to expect out of Pope, but I can’t imagine many thought he would be this good. Through the first 10 games of this season, Seton Hall’s senior forward has made a complete turnaround from last year. He has led Seton Hall to a 10-1 record and is top five in the nation in both points (22.1) and in rebounds (11.9). He’s admittedly in better shape, is playing more — and consistent — minutes, as well as leading the Pirates to an early-season surge. In short: Herb Pope has been playing and feeling more like … Herb Pope.
In 10 games this season Pope has had eight double-doubles, most recently with a 24 point and 17 rebound performance against Mercer.
You can’t help but feel good for Pope, after dealing with such a set-back, to come back and have a season like he’s having is truly remarkable. Most people that would encounter such adversity would sit back and feel bad for themselves, but not Pope. It made him work even harder to become the player that many felt he could be.
Pope spent this summer working with former coach turned basketball mentor, John Lucas. Lucas’ pitch to Pope, he said, “was that I needed to find myself again.” He tried to think — and play — like the dominant forward he once was, and proclaimed at Big East media day that his goal was to be the league’s Player of the Year, which seemed like a reach for someone who averaged 9.8 points and 7.8 rebounds as a junior.
It’s quite obvious that he really dedicated himself this summer to getting back into basketball shape and sharping his skills. In addition to being better-conditioned physically and mentally (Pope said he regularly consults with a therapist this year, with the goal of staying positive), he’s thriving because he is, for the first time, Seton Hall’s centerpiece.