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ODESSA, Texas – A West Texas student who led his high school basketball team to the state playoffs last season was actually a 22-year-old man, police said Tuesday.
Police say the basketball star was really Guerdwich Montimere, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Haiti who school officials say was recognized last month by Florida coaches as having been a star high school player in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a few years ago.
Ector County school district officials said the man posed as 16-year-old Jerry Joseph and enrolled at Permian High School in Odessa for the 2009-2010 academic year. He also presented himself as homeless to the school's basketball coach, Danny Wright, who took the boy in last summer, the coach said.
Montimere was arrested at Permian High on Tuesday and booked into Ector County jail on a charge of presenting false identification to a peace officer.
Officials said Jerry Joseph originally enrolled at the local junior high as a 15-year-old in February 2009, then moved on to high school.
Permian High officials say suspicions about the player's identity first arose when three Florida basketball coaches familiar with Montimere recognized him last month at an amateur tournament in Little Rock, Ark. The Odessa American reported that the coaches recognized him as Montimere, who graduated from Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale in 2007.
School district officials said they grew more suspicious after contacting U.S. immigration officials.
Police said they arrested Montimere after confronting him about his identity.
"I feel like I was hit by a ton of bricks," district athletic director Leon Fuller said. "In my 50 years in education, I've never heard of anything like this."
Wright told The American that the player was like a family member.
"This affected a lot of people. The whole school of Permian embraced that kid. He deceived us and played on everyone's emotions," Wright said.
Montimere was being held on $500 bond Tuesday night, according to jail records. Jail officials said no attorney was listed for Montimere.
If convicted of the misdemeanor, Montimere could face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
The revelation means Permian likely will have to forfeit the 2009 basketball season in which the 6-foot-5 player known as Jerry Joseph led the team to District 2-5A state playoffs and earned newcomer of the year accolades.
"I feel sick, but now that we've gotten the truth we can move on from here," said Permian principal Roy Garcia.
Permian High School's football program and the community support for it inspired the book "Friday Night Lights."