College Basketball Nation: Jerry Joseph

Longtime readers of this blog will remember the names Guerdwich Montimere (or "Montimer," as his social security card reportedly names him) and Jerry Joseph, and the strange story of a 22-year-old former Florida high school basketball player resurfacing in Odessa, Tex., with a new name and a new high school life. This is one of the more mindboggling, hard-to-fathom stories of the past five years; it has been the subject of ongoing media coverage in Texas and even a jailhouse profile in GQ.

And now, best of all, comes the work of Wright Thompson and ESPN's Outside The Lines:
I arrive in Odessa, Texas, flying low over black pump jacks, chasing the sort of weird, true crime story that often gets reporters on airplanes: A 16-year-old named Jerry Joseph, a basketball player at Permian High School of "Friday Night Lights" fame, has been found out as an impostor.

That's the first sentence. This just in: Thompson is pretty good at this whole writing thing.

Anyway, the story doesn't slow from there. Take the time out of your day, go enjoy, come back and discuss in the comments, whatever you want to do. It might set you back on work -- there's a reason my first post of the day is coming now as opposed to earlier this morning -- but it will be worth it at the end. Trust me.
The saga of Guerdwich Montimer* has officially come to an end.

(*Previously, we've been spelling the last name "Montimere," but according to the Odessa American article linked below, Montimer's passport and Social Security card identify him as "Guerdwich Montimer." So that's what we'll call him, I guess.)

On Wednesday, Montimer appeared before 70th District Court Judge Denn Whalen, who asked "Are you Guerdwich Montimer?" After replying in the affirmative -- "Yes, yes sir I am," Montimer said -- he plead guilty to two counts of sexual assault of a child and three counts of tampering with government records, according to the Odessa American. Montimer will serve three years in prison for each count, which will run concurrently, and he will get credit for time served for the year he's spent in prison since the scandal over his identity erupted over a year ago.

By now, you'll know Montimer as Jerry Joseph, a 16-year-old basketball star for Permian High School in Odessa, Tex. Except Montimer wasn't really 16. He was 22. When coaches from Florida saw him play at an AAU tournament in Arkansas, they began asking questions about his identity. The government began looking into those questions, and discovered that he had lied about his identity and -- in the most drastic turn in the case -- had sex with a 15-year-old schoolmate under the guise of his 16-year-old identity.

As Diamond noted two weeks ago, Montimer's story was chronicled in this month's issue of GQ, and the story remains a must-read for anyone who finds this tale appropriately fascinating. Montimer arrived in Odessa with little more than a bag of clothes, and he had claimed he was an orphan in Haiti who had stowed away on a boat to America seeking a second chance. Odessa coach Danny Wright, seeing Montimer's hoops talent, adopted him, and the GQ story begins with a touching portrait of "Jerry's" first holiday season with the family.

When Montimer was approached at the famed AAU tournament, he pretended not to know a former coach from Florida. When the principal of Permian high school confronted Montimer with two photos -- one of him playing for Permian, the other of him in a uniform in Florida -- Montimer said he had no idea who the "other" person was. Even during the investigation, Montimer stuck by his story. Only Wednesday, when asked in a court of law at his plea hearing, did he finally confirm his real identity.

It's about as weird a story as you'll ever hear. You wonder: What if Montimer hadn't been spotted at the AAU tournament? Would he have eventually been caught anyway? Or would he still be Jerry Joseph?

The curious case of Guerdwich Montimere

July, 11, 2011
The story of Jerry Joseph made headlines a year ago because the Permian high school basketball star living the life of a standout athlete wasn't in fact Jerry Joseph. His real name was Guerdwich Montimere, and Montimere was a 22-year-old claiming he was 16. No one found out until AAU coaches in Florida recognized him at a tournament. That landed Montimere in hot water and in jail for false identification and also because a teenage girl said the two had sex.

Yep, it's completely bizarre, and in this month's GQ Magazine, Jerry Joseph gets profiled in a haunting story that includes a jailhouse interviewed in which Montimere insists his name is still Jerry. There are a couple college basketball-related angles to the story as well.

According to the story, Permian coach Danny Wright, who had taken Montimere onto his team and into his home believing he was Jerry Joseph, said Texas Tech was recruiting Jerry Joseph, the standout sophomore. "Texas Tech was ready to take him," Wright told GQ. "They wanted him bad."

Then there's the story of Divonte Wallace, a friend and teammate of Jerry Joseph's who lost his starting spot to Jerry Joseph as the real-life 22-year-old began dominating and making a name for himself on the court. According to GQ, Wallace never got any college offers and now works at FedEx and stays in shape in case something ever did materialize.

Montimere's deception affected the many lives that were detailed in the story. While sitting in jail waiting for the next court date, he still occasionally plays basketball -- the game that offered him a second at being a teenager. He also told GQ this:
"Basketball is a skill," he says. "It's a gift from God. But it was never my passion." He says it isn't that anyone pressured him to play, exactly. It just made everyone else so happy. Everyone seemed to like him so much more. "I thought about quitting all the time," he says.