LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) -Herb Pope is making headlines at New Mexico State, and he hasn't even put on a uniform.
The freshman has been in the news since arriving on campus, heralded as ``the highest profile student athlete to ever sign with Aggie hoops,'' according to his biography on the school's Web site.
Then came a three-month wait while the NCAA determined his eligibility, a court challenge seeking to bar the NCAA from declaring him ineligible and, most recently, a drunken driving charge that could derail the whole affair.
``It's just a real seesaw situation,'' coach Marvin Menzies said Monday. ``I'm not sure yet what it all means for Herb.''
The 6-foot-8 Pope, a versatile forward, averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds as a senior at Aliquippa High in Pennsylvania. One of the nation's top recruits last season, he chose New Mexico State over Cincinnati, Kansas State, Louisville, Maryland, Memphis, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh and Texas.
In March, Pope was shot four times in Aliquippa. A Pittsburgh man pleaded guilty to attempted homicide and was sentenced to 6 to 16 years in prison last month.
Pope recovered and reaffirmed his commitment to New Mexico State last summer when Menzies was hired to replace Reggie Theus, who left to take over the NBA's Sacramento Kings.
These days, Pope is simply an academic non-qualifier, leaving Menzies and the Aggies (8-9, 2-0 Western Athletic Conference) to press ahead without him.
``As time goes on, you have to focus on guys who are eligible and playing,'' Menzies said.
The eligibility question centers on an alternative education program Pope took in high school. As the issue dragged on, Pope got a lawyer to submit a temporary restraining order.
State District Judge Jerald Valentine signed the order Dec. 21, barring the NCAA from declaring Pope ineligible. The document ordered the university to award Pope his Pell Grant.
``It has been awarded,'' athletics director McKinley Boston said. ``That was the one condition with the injunction we were able to meet.''
Valentine has scheduled a Jan. 14 hearing to determine whether to continue the order. An NCAA spokeswoman declined comment on the issue, saying the organization won't publicly discuss pending litigation.
First, Pope faces a preliminary hearing Wednesday in Pennsylvania in the drunken driving case.
Pope, 18, was found unresponsive behind the wheel of a car that was stopped in a traffic lane northwest of Pittsburgh early Dec. 28 with the engine running and doors locked, according to court documents.
``The last time I talked to him, he seemed to be taking the current dilemma and moving through it, trying to get to the next day,'' Menzies said.
The eligibility issue presents Boston with his own dilemma. New Mexico State has appealed the NCAA's initial ruling, but Boston must decide whether to use the judge's order to let Pope play.
Assuming he was cleared on the DUI charge and school officials determined he was eligible, New Mexico State could face NCAA penalties.
``I don't know if I want to take that gamble,'' Boston said.
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