HAMPTON, VA., SEPT. 8 -- Allen Iverson, considered by many the best high school basketball player in the country, was sentenced today to five years in prison for his involvement in a Valentine's Day brawl, leaving his basketball future on hold.

Iverson, an 18-year-old senior at Bethel High School here, was convicted in July of three felony counts of maiming by mob.

Judge Nelson T. Overton sentenced Iverson to three five-year prison terms for the felonies, then suspended two of the terms, meaning Iverson will spend a minimum of 10 months in prison.

"I'm shocked," said Iverson's tearful mother, Ann Iverson. "It's just unfair to say my son is a threat to society. I can't believe he won't even get to finish high school."

Iverson, wearing a stone-colored, double-breasted suit and red tie, was led out of a packed court room at Hampton Circuit Court in handcuffs and was escorted by bailiffs to the city jail that adjoins the courthouse.

A 6-foot-1, 165-pound guard, Iverson had been one of the most heavily recruited players in the country after leading Bethel to state titles in football and basketball last season and earning Virginia Group AAA player-of-the-year honors in both sports.

Mike Jarvis, head basketball coach at George Washington University, said Iverson is still recruitable, but there are more important matters involved.

"I'm more concerned about him as a person, not as a basketball player," Jarvis said. "What I'm going to do now is see if there is any way I can help him think about what he can do to put himself in a position, after he completes his service, to be eligible to be recruited by anybody, not just me."

Iverson will spend 4 1/2 months at the Hampton City Jail -- a three-story, red-brick building with bars on the windows that overlooks a graveyard -- pending an appeal.

He will then be transferred to either the Cheasapeake-based St. Brides or Capon penitentiaries, which house prisoners under the age of 22. With good behavior, he could be out of prison by June 1994.

To play college ball, Iverson must earn a general equivalency diploma and improve his grade-point average, which last winter was a reported 1.8, slightly below the 2.0 that the National Collegiate Athletic Association requires for a freshman to compete in college sports. While in jail, he will be able to take courses toward his equivalency diploma. But to play in college, he also must score at least a combined 700 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, which he has not yet done.

Although colleges risk receiving negative publicity by signing a felon to play sports, it is not unprecedented to do so. This summer, American University signed basketball payer Ronnell Williams, who pleaded guilty in June to a drug trafficking felony and received a suspended two-year sentence.

Iverson's sentence stems from his involvement in a chair-throwing brawl at the Circle Lanes bowling center early in the morning of Feb. 14.

Overton found Iverson guilty of provoking a racially motivated fight and hitting a woman on the head with a chair. The woman was knocked unconscious and suffered a lacerated scalp requiring six stitches.

In the brawl, a man suffered a broken arm and a woman a broken thumb. Three other teenagers, all friends of Iverson's, were convicted in the incident, two receiving lesser sentences and one the same as Iverson's.

Boo Williams, Iverson's summer league basketball coach for the past eight years, said Iverson was unfairly prosecuted because of his athletic skills.

"There's no question," Williams said. "This thing was blown way out of proportion. If they're going to prosecute everyone who goes out and hits someone, they couldn't build enough jails.

"The judge feels the pressure from the other side and is just trying to make an example of Allen Iverson."

At the sentencing, Iverson's attorney, Herbert Kelly Sr., asked Overton to send Iverson to the Maine Central Institute, a prep boarding school with rigid rules and discipline -- and a nationally known basketball program.

Iverson already had been accepted to MCI, Kelly said. Kelly told the judge that sending Iverson to MCI would allow the young man to get away from the spotlight he's under in Hampton, while finishing his senior year at a school that demands its students be in bed by 10 p.m. on weekdays and mandates study hall sessions.

"Let him see how he does. Allow him to find a way in the future to contribute to the community," Kelly implored Overton.

But prosecuting attorney Colleen Killilea noted that Iverson has failed to live up to legal stipulations before.

In November 1992, Iverson was arrested in Newport News for driving without a license and failed to show up for the court date, Killilea said. Later, he was sentenced to community service at a local hospital but failed to complete it until six months after the deadline, she said.

Before he was sentenced, Iverson briefly addressed the court, saying, "I would like to apologize to my family, friends and the community for the embarrassment I might have caused them.

"I do feel bad for what happened that night at the bowling alley. I wouldn't want that to happen to anybody in any situation."

On Tuesday evening, members of the Hampton community held a candlelight vigil at the Queen Street Baptist Church in support of Iverson and the other three young men convicted. The group today gave Overton a petition signed by "thousands" of citizens asking the judge to be lenient in his sentence.

Killilea was unbowed, imploring Overton to remember those injured in the brawl.