Fla. coaches believe teen is really 22

Updated: May 6, 2010, 2:41 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Jerry Joseph is a 16-year-old star high school basketball player in Odessa, Texas. U.S. Immigration officials say he's in the country illegally. And some coaches from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., believe he's a former player who starred in South Florida and is actually 22.

The 6-foot-5 Joseph, who plays for Permian High School in Odessa, has faced allegations that he is really Guerdwich Montimere, who starred at Fort Lauderdale's Dillard High School and graduated in 2007.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have determined that Joseph is not Montimere, but that Joseph, from Haiti, is in the country illegally.

Joseph has been allowed to stay enrolled at Permian and play basketball, however. His coach, Danny Wright, has been made his legal guardian until a hearing is held to determine Joseph's status. Joseph had been staying with Wright's family since the end of the last school year, even before the controversy. A date hasn't been set yet for the hearing.

ICE spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa told USA Today that investigators used the FBI database and determined through fingerprint analysis that Joseph wasn't Montimere.

Cedric Smith and Louis Vives, coaches for the South Florida Elite AAU team, saw Joseph last month at an AAU tournament in Arkansas and are convinced that Joseph is Montimere.

"I'm 100 percent sure. I would bet my paycheck," Smith told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

"We saw him. We've known Guerdwich since he was in seventh or eighth grade. The mannerisms were him. It doesn't make sense. They have to do more investigations for me," Smith told the newspaper.

Joseph denied that he was Montimere when he talked with Vives at the tournament.

"It was shocking, and the question at hand was just why," Vives told USA Today. "When I approached him, I just wanted to know what was going on. The surprised look on his face gave it away that it was him. ... Once he saw a Florida team and players and coaches who knew him, the look on his face was like, 'Wow, what am I into now?' "

Permian principal Roy Garcia told the Sun-Sentinel that his school contacted Dillard in its investigation.

"Any time we get an accusation that serious, we have to check it out," Garcia told the Odessa American. "If the allegations are true, that means a 22-year-old is walking around the halls with high school kids."

The Odessa American reported that Joseph was enrolled at Permian by Jabari Caldwell, who was a teammate of Montimere's at Dillard. According to the newspaper, Caldwell signed an affidavit that Joseph was his half-brother.

However, Wright's wife, Jamie, told the Odessa American that Joseph phoned her last week and said he wasn't related to Caldwell.

Caldwell told the Odessa American that he helped Joseph enroll at Permian as a favor to a friend he used to play with in Fort Lauderdale. Joseph, whose Haitian birth certificate says he was born on Jan. 1, 1994, was homeless in Fort Myers, Fla., after fleeing a hurricane in Haiti in 2008, the newspaper reported.

"He asked me if it was possible for me to help him enroll in school," Caldwell told the Odessa American. "I met him in Odessa. He came out here on a Greyhound."

Caldwell, who had been playing at the University of Texas-Permian Basin, left Texas for Florida when his coach left for another job. Joseph wanted to stay in Texas and asked Wright if he could stay with the coach.

Wright told the Odessa American that he hopes to adopt Joseph.

"I don't think there was a loser in this thing at all," Wright told the newspaper. "When this broke, there was a panic to do the right thing. I think everyone was trying to do their job to the best of their ability."

Joseph has declined to comment when contacted by media outlets.