Herb Pope will never forget the day he died -- and he even has the piece of paper to prove it.
Today Pope, a 6-8 power forward from Seton Hall, is in the running to become Big East player of the year and looks set to join boyhood contemporaries Derrick Rose and Kevin Love in the NBA after his senior season.
Yet back in April 2010, the native of Aliquippa, Pa., collapsed while climbing stairs to a weight room at the Pirates' Walsh Gymnasium and his heart stopped beating -- rendering him clinically dead.
Quick thinking from Seton Hall director of sports medicine Tony Testa, who stood just yards away, gave Pope a shot at life. However, his predicament in the following hours still seemed so grave that sports information director Matt Sweeney wrote a press release "Seton Hall's Herb Pope Passes Away" in preparation for a tragic ending.
As revealed by a Sports Illustrated feature this week by Pablo S. Torre, Pope still has the press statement, one that thankfully never needed to be released.
It begins with: "Seton Hall men's basketball sophomore Herb Pope (Aliquippa, Pa.) died on XXXday from complications from a cardiac event he suffered on April 28."
It ends with the words: "Herb Pope was 21 years old."
"'What if' is all I thought about those first four months," Pope told SI. "I mean, what if it had happened when I was asleep?"
Now 23, Pope, who was diagnosed with a rare arterial condition, is enjoying the best season of his basketball career. He has turned himself into a double-double machine for the resurgent Pirates (15-4) while forcing his way onto the radar of draft scouts.
But even after Pope initially recovered, it seemed as if his health concerns would end his dream of playing in the NBA. Playing at what he estimates as 50 percent capacity, his productivity dipped as Seton Hall went 13-18 and lost in the first round of the Big East tournament under new coach Kevin Willard.
Meanwhile, Rose, Love and O.J. Mayo, with whom Pope had been favorably compared as part of the same high school graduating class, shined in the NBA.
If not for another incident when he was 17, Pope might already be rubbing shoulders with his pals in the NBA. However, while he was a high school senior and one of the most promising players in the nation, Pope was shot five times following a late-night scuffle. That created his first career roadblock, one which was overcome at New Mexico State before he transferred to Seton Hall in 2009.
Herb Pope has had to wait for his time to come, but as he enters the final months of his college career, he surely cannot be short of inspiration. Not just from those same-aged stars who are now NBA veterans, but from that piece of paper that so nearly signaled the end of his life.
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