Lake Fong, Post-Gazette
Aliquippa's Herb Pope battles for the ball in the state title game March 24.
Aliquippa's Herb Pope is one of Western Pennsylvania's most celebrated high school basketball players in recent history, becoming the area's first Parade magazine All-American in 13 years.
But off the court, Mr. Pope's reputation isn't as sterling. His past includes altercations in and out of school, and those who know him well believe his troubles can be traced to everything from a short temper, to the company he keeps, to an extremely unstable upbringing.
Mr. Pope, 18, is recovering in UPMC Presbyterian after being shot four times at a party early Saturday morning in Aliquippa. Hospital officials won't release any information, but friends say he has been moved from intensive care to a regular room.
Schenley High basketball player Jamaal Bryant, a friend of Mr. Pope's who visited him yesterday, said, "He's doing good. He's doing a lot better than Saturday."
Antonio Reddic, another Aliquippa basketball standout, also attended the party and is one of Mr. Pope's best friends.
"Sometimes, he gets in with the wrong crowd," Mr. Reddic said. "He won't hang around them every day, but sometimes he gets in with the wrong people."
Aliquippa police said Mr. Pope got into an altercation with two men at the party, and a warrant was issued for Marcus Cleaster Longmire's arrest yesterday. He is wanted on charges of attempted homicide, aggravated assault, simple assault and a firearms violation.
Years ago, Mr. Pope was expelled from Beaver Falls Middle School after getting into a fight at the school cafeteria. He has been in other altercations over the years. Last summer, he got into a fight during a game at the national Amateur Athletic Union basketball tournament in Florida. J.O. Stright, Mr. Pope's coach with the Pittsburgh J.O.T.S. AAU team, threw Mr. Pope off the team after the fight.
"People like to mess with him because they know how his temper is and they like to get him in trouble just because he's Herb Pope," Mr. Reddic said. "Everybody thinks bad of the kid because of his attitude sometimes. But past that, he's a great kid. He has a great sense of humor."
Mr. Stright tried to mentor Mr. Pope the past few years and handled some of his college recruiting. Connecticut, Louisville and a number of other schools had offered scholarships to the 6-foot-9 Mr. Pope during his junior season. Mr. Stright said some of the schools eventually backed off because they didn't like Mr. Pope's attitude. Mr. Pope eventually signed a letter of intent last November with New Mexico State University.
"His life growing up certainly hasn't helped him," Mr. Stright said.
Beaver Falls High School basketball coach Doug Biega taught Mr. Pope in fifth-grade English class seven years ago. He said he got to know him well over the next few years.
"I viewed him as an extremely articulate, extremely intelligent kid, but also extremely misguided," Mr. Biega said. "Misguided might be the wrong word. He just had a complete lack of guidance."
Over the years, Mr. Pope has lived with foster parents and many different family members, including his mother, grandmother and aunt. The past few years he has lived with his aunt, Amy Pope, in Aliquippa. Mr. Pope's father has done time in jail and was released last summer.
"It's been hard on him, moving from house to house," said Mr. Reddic, who has known Mr. Pope since their elementary school days. "That's one of the biggest things, living with different people and not living with a mom or a dad. I think that's where some of his attitude and frustrations come from."
He attended Aliquippa schools through fourth grade and lived in the Beaver Falls district from fifth through seventh grade.
It was about this time that basketball coaches started noticing the once-gawky kid who was beginning to blossom into a standout basketball player. Mr. Pope, who was always tall for his age, was about six feet tall by the time he was in the sixth grade.
In eighth grade, he attended Beaver Junior High, before attending basketball power Montrose Academy in Rockville, Md., for his freshman year.
Mike Shontz was Mr. Pope's guardian in eighth and ninth grade. His son, Corey, played basketball with Mr. Pope in elementary school, and Mr. Shontz was the team's coach.
"Herb was staying at my house just about every weekend," Shontz said. "He became very close with my family."
Mr. Shontz called Mr. Pope's home life "horrible." He said when Mr. Pope was in eighth grade, Beaver County Children and Youth Services couldn't find a foster home for him.
"When they had a hearing to decide where to place him, no one from his family even showed up," Mr. Shontz said. "So they called me."
But Mr. Pope began having more contact with his own family while he was in the eighth grade, which Mr. Shontz said he didn't like. So he got Mr. Pope into Montrose.
"Montrose was right for him. He lived with a strong family down there," Mr. Shontz said.
But Mr. Pope stayed at Montrose only one year. Mr. Shontz moved from Beaver to Andover, Ohio, three years ago and that's when Mr. Pope came back to Beaver County and moved into the Hopewell School District with the family of Dan Costo, a Hopewell player. Mr. Pope attended Hopewell for a few months before transferring to Aliquippa and moving in with his grandmother.
"I wanted him out of Aliquippa because I knew something like this [shooting] could happen," Mr. Shontz said. "I hate to say I was right, but I was. Bad things can happen when you're out at Aliquippa at 3 in the morning. Where the heck were his guardians?"
Mr. Biega's teams have played against Mr. Pope the past three seasons, and he sees Mr. Pope sometimes away from school and the court.
"My view may be harsh, but I don't think Herb has ever had anyone who has truly loved him or taken care of him," Mr. Biega said. "People might say now they love Herb, but I'm not sure they're telling the truth. They may love him because of what he might be able to do for them, or because they possibly see NBA money in him someday."
Mike White can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1975.