LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) -Herb Pope, the New Mexico State freshman forward who has dealt with eligibility troubles since arriving on campus last fall, has been cleared to play by the NCAA.
Athletic director McKinley Boston said Friday that the NCAA granted an initial eligibility waiver, meaning Pope can begin playing immediately.
``We are pleased that Herb has been cleared by the NCAA,'' Boston said. ``We are disappointed that the process has taken this long but felt all along that he would be cleared to play.''
Pope had been ruled academically ineligible to play due to an alternative education program he took in high school. He challenged the ruling in court and a state district judge last month ordered an end to the ban.
Even though Pope has been cleared on the eligibility issue, he still faces legal troubles in Pennsylvania. He was charged with drunken driving and other counts after police said they found him passed out in a running car in the Pittsburgh suburb of Moon Township on Dec. 28.
He waived his right to a preliminary hearing on the charges earlier this week and will be scheduled to stand trial. Pope will be formally arraigned on March 26.
Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said he will suspend Pope for one game for violating team rules. The student-athlete code of conduct states that punishment for all non-felony crimes is left to the discretion of the coach.
Boston said he supports the suspension.
In a statement released by the university, Pope said he wanted to apologize to the university, his coaches and the fans for his off-the-court actions.
``I look forward to putting everything behind me and playing basketball,'' he said.
Pope starred at Aliquippa High School in Pennsylvania and was one of the nation's top recruits last season. He chose New Mexico State over Cincinnati, Kansas State, Louisville, Maryland, Memphis, Oklahoma, Texas and Pittsburgh.
Pope also survived a frightening episode last March, when he was shot four times in Aliquippa. A Pittsburgh man pleaded guilty to attempted homicide and was sentenced to six to 16 years in prison last month.
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