May 11, 2010

Busted: HS hoops player found to be 22-year old

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For two weeks, Guerdwich Montimere told everyone at Permian High in Odessa, Texas, that the allegations were false - that he really was 16-year-old sophomore basketball star and Haitian orphan Jerry Joseph.

He said don't believe the rumors that he was much older, that he really was a youngster when he averaged more than 20 points over the last nine games of the season on the way to being named the District 2-5A Newcomer of the Year.

Tuesday afternoon, with the authorities closing in, he finally admitted the truth - that he is, in fact, Montimere. That he is, in fact, 22 years old and a 2007 graduate of Dillard High in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Montimere was arrested and charged with presenting false identification.

Permian school officials are stunned - starting with head basketball coach Danny Wright, who has allowed Montimere to live with him since last summer and just recently became his legal guardian. Or rather, Jerry Joseph's legal guardian.

"He was a family member and that is devastating to my family," Wright told the Odessa American. "This affected a lot of people. The whole school of Permian embraced that kid. He deceived us and played on everyone involved's emotions.

"He has been lying to everyone, my God, what is up with that?"

Back in Florida, AAU basketball coach Louis Vives, who first spotted the player at an event last month, told the Fort Lauderdale-based South Florida Sun Sentinel he was not surprised by the findings.

"I was hoping I was wrong because he was one of our kids," Vives told the paper. "He grew up in our system. He played with us and you don't want any of your kids to go in the wrong direction in any way. That's why I'm sad. But what's right is right. He can't go around impersonating a 16-year old kid. He can't go living his youth all over again."

Permian officials, who were notified that Joseph may be an imposter by an anonymous e-mail on April 27, were busy trying to explain how a 22-year-old man got away with impersonating a 16-year-old boy. One who enrolled in a junior high early last year.

The school released a timeline of events after his arrest.

"Jerry Joseph moved to Odessa in February 2009 and enrolled at Nimitz Junior High. He presented a birth certificate from Haiti showing him to be 15 years old. At the time he claimed he was living with his half-brother in a dorm at UTPB. Joseph later admitted the person was not his half-brother but a friend. After the friend left Texas in the summer of 2009 Joseph was taken in by Permian boys basketball coach Danny Wright.

"On Tuesday, April 27, PHS administrators received an anonymous e-mail claiming Joseph was really 22-year-old Guerdwich Montimere from Florida. Pictures show a strong resemblance between the two but the student insisted he'd never heard of Montimere. Since they were unable to prove otherwise, law enforcement officials treated him as the 16-year-old Jerry Joseph. On April 20 a judge agreed to give Wright guardianship of Joseph, which allowed him to remain in Odessa and attend Permian.

"ECISD followed all legal requirements in keeping Joseph enrolled in school until his true identity was confirmed."

School officials had no way of knowing Joseph actually was Montimere - that he led Dillard to a state final as a senior then attended but never played at Highland Community College in Freeport, Ill.

But that doesn't take away any of the sting.

"I feel like I was hit by a ton of bricks," school district athletic director Leon Fuller told the Odessa American, which - along with the Sun Sentinel - has chronicled the story the past two weeks. "In my 50 years in education, I've never heard of anything like this."

Stunningly, it's not the first time it has happened this school year.

Anthony Avalos attended and played basketball at Kofa High School in Yuma, Ariz., before he was caught last November. Avalos, also 22, graduated from a Florida high school in 2005.

And then there was the case of Neville Davis. Playing as Steele Davis, he was the eternal sophomore, starring at several schools along the East Coast starting in 2005. He wasn't caught until April of 2009.

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