By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
A squat man standing off to the side of the house overheard the conversation and quickly made his way over. "They're not here," he said, referring to the two nearly seven-foot-tall boys. "They're probably at their grandma's house or something. They'll be back."
This second man identified himself as Bob Corella. He said he lives in an efficiency apartment in the back of the house. He also said he is an assistant coach for the Miami High team. "I'm not yet on the payroll," he explained, as he wiped his hands on his Nike shorts. (Only four of the team's six official assistant coaches are paid.) Corella said that Haslem and Latimer both lived with him in the efficiency apartment and would return, but suggested that any interviews with players be set up through Coach Martin.
Frank Martin called New Times, unsolicited, the following Monday. "I understand you've been out to see one of my guys to ask about Latimer," the coach said. "I guess you wanted to see him and Udonis at home. For whatever reason they've got that address listed there but that's not their home address. I'm not going to kid with you. I've got no idea how they got put at that address. Latimer lives on his own, in an efficiency on his own. Haslem lives in Liberty City." He could not explain why Bob Corella would say that the boys lived at that address.
Martin added that Corella is not an assistant coach, though he did once keep the scorebook for the team. He said Corella is simply a devoted fan: "He's somebody that whenever I need to take five kids to the doctor, he's willing to help. He comes to practices and he takes his girlfriend and he'll go and watch us play."
Two days later the addresses in the school district computer system for both Latimer and Haslem changed. Latimer is now listed as living inside the Miami High School attendance zone, at the same address that appears on his driver's license. Also living at the address is Rosie Faz, a long-time assistant in the Miami High School athletic department. Faz confirms that Latimer lives in an efficiency on the property, which her parents own. By FHSAA rules, a player who accepts residence "with any person associated with a school" can lose his athletic eligibility for a year.
Should FHSAA officials choose to examine the propriety of Latimer's new digs (or of his supposed old digs with Corella), it wouldn't be the first time the basketball player finds himself in trouble with the association. Earlier this season FHSAA officials declared Latimer ineligible to play for Miami High. He transferred from Melbourne to Miami after the year had begun, they noted, a move that normally costs a year of eligibility. But rather than abide by the ruling and lose out on their new star player, Miami High officials took the FHSAA to court. In November Circuit Court Judge Alan Postman issued an injunction reinstating Latimer's eligibility. The FHSAA declined to appeal.
Haslem's address on the district computer system did not change to Liberty City, where Martin had claimed he lived. Nor was it changed to the Miramar home of his father and stepmother. Instead it was changed to a house in North Miami. According to property and driver's license records, the house is occupied by Debra Haslem, Udonis's mother.
"Oh, I've got my hands full right now," said Ms. Haslem when New Times stopped by at noon two days after the address change. "I'm feeding three little children. Can you come back at three o'clock?"
By 3:00 p.m. Debra Haslem had not only fed the kids, she had changed into one of her best outfits, applied makeup, curled her hair, and donned pearl earrings. "I've got to make myself presentable," she said with a broad smile. One of the young children, stuffed from lunch, lay on the floor watching cartoons. Scattered throughout the living room were photographs of various boys and girls. There were no pictures of Udonis.
Debra explained that she was extremely proud of her son, though she doesn't get to see him as much as she'd like. "I don't know if you're aware of this," she confided, leaning close. "But his father and I divorced when Udonis was seven and he got custody. He had the lady [Barbara Wooten] and she had the good job and the home and the cars, so they both got my boy."
Now that Wooten and Johnnie Haslem have moved down from Jacksonville, Debra gets to attend her son's games. She laughed at how engrossed she becomes in the action. At one game, after her son took an elbow in the mouth, she had to be held back from running on the court to attack the referee. She is very impressed by the Miami High coaches.
"Even before Udonis moved down here, he had decided that he would be going to Miami High," she recalled. "They must have a good program for him to be traveling to school every day from Miramar. I mean, that's a long way to drive just to go to school!" Debra Haslem said Udonis visits her at her home only about three times a month, and usually to go to church. "Oh, he hates church but I drag him along anyway," she said with a laugh. "You know, he called me on Monday to ask what my address was here. That must have something to do with you."