February 02, 2017

PITTSBURGH (AP) A Pennsylvania high school basketball prospect who later starred at Seton Hall University and hoped to play professionally in the NBA or overseas, leaving behind a sometimes-troubled life, pleaded guilty Thursday to robbing a bank last year.

Herb Pope Jr.'s plea before a federal judge in Pittsburgh is perhaps the saddest, most serious chapter in his 28 years.

Pope, who is 6-foot-9, stood a full head taller than his defense attorney, Stephen Misko. Pope wore red jail scrubs, orange rubber clogs and leg irons as he pleaded guilty to charges of bank robbery, armed bank robbery and brandishing a firearm during a violent crime for the Feb. 16 heist at Sewickley Savings Bank.

Because he pleaded guilty to brandishing a gun during the heist - which netted slightly more than $3,500 - Pope faces at least seven years in prison tacked onto whatever sentence U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon gives him for the robbery charges. Misko said he expects that to be about 2+ years, meaning Pope would face nearly 10 years in prison, and perhaps more, when he's sentenced May 19.

Pope's half brother, Tyler Bridges, 31, has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial for his alleged role in that heist and another four days earlier at a WesBanco Bank branch in Ambridge. Pope was indicted in the earlier robbery, too, though federal prosecutors later determined they couldn't prove his involvement and dropped those charges.

Bridges' attorney declined to comment.

Pope starred a few miles away at Aliquippa Junior-Senior High School and was a Pittsburgh-area sensation, starting on an Amateur Athletic Union team that also featured DeJuan Blair, D.J. Kennedy, Terrelle Pryor and Jon Baldwin. Blair and Kennedy wound up in the NBA, while Pryor and Baldwin went to the NFL.

Academic issues stunted Pope's college career at New Mexico State, though he transferred to Seton Hall in New Jersey and led the Big East in rebounding in 2010 and eventually graduated in 2013.

But four gunshot wounds almost ended Pope's college career before it started.

Pope was at a party and argued with another man as they left. A third man intervened and shot Pope twice in the abdomen, once in the left arm and once in the thigh early March 31, 2007.

Pope, then an 18-year-old high school senior, had been scheduled to fly to Chicago hours later to play in the Roundball Classic, an all-star game that includes top high school players nationwide.

Pope was arrested, and later convicted, of drunken driving that December and was arrested for allegedly pulling a weapon on a bartender in Ambridge on New Year's Eve 2012. He later pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, salvaging his career at Seton Hall.

When the NBA passed on his skills, Pope arranged to play professionally in Slovenia, but ran into trouble when his passport expired, among other issues.

''Herb had some drug and alcohol problems in the early part of 2016'' when Bridges ''got him involved'' in the bank heist, Misko said after the guilty plea. ''That's not the kind of person he is.''

Misko contends Pope is a ''very intelligent young man'' who hopes to counsel youths in his hardscrabble hometown of Aliquippa once he's out of prison.

''I know he wants to get back and be involved in the community,'' Misko said.

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