A SURPRISE PACKAGE
The envelope was like any of tens of thousands carried by overnight air delivery services each business day. It had begun its journey in Lexington, Ky., on March 30. The next morning, Eric Osborn, an employee at Emery Worldwide's distribution center near Los Angeles International Airport, was sorting dozens of packages when he noticed that the envelope in question had come open. The label identified the sender as Dwane Casey, who's an assistant basketball coach at the University of Kentucky. The package was addressed to Claud Mills, the father of Chris Mills, a Kentucky signee who may be the finest high school basketball player ever to come out of L.A. Osborn noticed a videocassette sticking out of the package. Then he noticed something else: 20 $50 bills.
Osborn alerted his supervisors, one of whom phoned Claud Mills to tell him about the package. According to Charles Bullerman, security manager at the Emery facility, Mills expressed disbelief that there could be a package for him containing $1,000, hung up, then called back. "He was irate that his package was opened," said Bullerman. In the meantime, the money was counted and placed back in the envelope, which was resealed. According to Emery records, it was delivered to the Mills home at 11:55 a.m.
Acting on a tip, The Los Angeles Daily News investigated the story over the next two weeks, going to press with it last Thursday. In the wake of the newspaper's investigation, NCAA director of enforcement David Berst and Kentucky president David Roselle both launched probes of whether UK had given Mills inducements in violation of NCAA rules. It was the third time in the last 12 years that the NCAA has looked into similar allegations involving Wildcat basketball players or recruits. The two previous times, NCAA gumshoes had found no wrongdoing serious enough to warrant more than a slap on the wrist.
Some Kentucky supporters suggested that Casey had been set up, that the money may have been planted by UCLA boosters who were upset that Mills had spurned their school. Casey acknowledged to reporters that he had sent a videotape via Emery to Claud Mills, but he denied having put any money in the envelope. Claud Mills confirmed that he took a call on the morning of March 31 from someone who said he was an Emery employee and told Mills there was a package for him with $1,000 in it, but both Claud and his son Chris, who signed for the package, said there was no money in it when it arrived at their house.
When interviewed last Saturday by SI's Armen Keteyian in Albuquerque, where Chris Mills was practicing for Sunday's McDonald's All American High School Game, Claud said, "No man on this earth can say I received $1,000 from Kentucky. And Chris told me, 'Dad, do you think I'm stupid? Do you think I would have signed for an envelope with $1,000 in it? Don't you think I know what the rules are?' "
In February 1987, when Keteyian visited the one-bedroom apartment that the elder Mills shares with Chris and another son, Tracey, the living room was furnished with a couch, a table and several basketball trophies. The Millses now have new furniture. In November, around the time of the early signing date for basketball recruits, Chris began driving a 1984 Datsun 300ZX. Claud says he bought the car for Chris, and he attributes his improved life-style to $24,000 he received last fall as workmen's compensation for a back injury he suffered in 1986 while working in the medical records section at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in L.A. He says he has received another $10,000 as a settlement from an auto accident in the spring of 1987. "We never cheated," says Claud.
Some college basketball observers predict that Kentucky will once again escape the enforcement arm of the NCAA. But Roselle, who was officially invested as Kentucky's new president last Thursday, sounds as if he is willing to probe for possible wrongdoing in the Wildcat basketball program. After the ceremony, a woman said to Roselle, "It's a shame this had to come out today."
Roselle shook his head and replied, "Maybe it's not such a bad thing."
Lewis Schaffel, managing partner of the NBA expansion franchise in Miami, recently spoke to a men's club at a synagogue in Fort Lauderdale, trying to drum up business for the new team, which is called the Heat and which will make its debut next season. Schaffel figured he would appeal to the migratory nature of the South Florida populace by reminiscing about his old high school in Brooklyn, Erasmus Hall, which has produced such luminaries as Billy Cunningham, Doug Moe, Al Davis and Barbra Streisand.
"So you went to Erasmus?" asked one septuagenarian after the speech. "That's nice. I went to Eastern District."
"Eastern District," Schaffel replied. "You know who went there, don't you? Red Auerbach."
"You mean Arnold Auerbach," said the gentleman. "Oh, I went to school with Arnie Auerbach. Say, what's Arnie doing nowadays, anyhow?"
Organizers of a Giants baseball fantasy camp scheduled for this week in Tempe, Ariz., wanted to expand their venture to include a sportswriting fantasy camp. Anyone paying a $1,200 enrollment fee could spend five days in Tempe pretending to be Roger Angell or Peter Gammons. He or she would have the chance to interview Willie Mays and other Giants greats, write stories for possible publication in Giants Magazine and pick up pointers from real-life sportswriters.
As of last week the baseball camp was booked solid with 90 reservations, while an affiliated sports broadcasting fantasy camp had attracted 12 would-be Vin Scullys. What about the sportswriting camp? "Not one person signed up," says organizer Max Shapiro. "No one even asked for a brochure."
Although the camp for scribes has been scrubbed, we can offer you the following advice on sportswriting from Garth Iorg, the former Blue Jays infielder who was hired by The Toronto Star in October 1985 to write personal accounts of the Jays' American League Championship Series with the Kansas City Royals. Said Iorg, "I guess this means I have to put on 30 pounds, smoke smelly cigars and wear clothes that don't match."
THE UNDERSIDE OF HOCKEY
Some intrepid scuba divers in the Winnipeg area are a little sadder these days. That's because the spring thaw has brought an end to their underwater ice hockey season. Or is that under-ice water hockey?
Whatever, to play the game, divers cut a hole in the ice, don their cold-water scuba gear and take the plunge, tethered to the surface by safety lines. Once submerged, they inflate their suits so that they rise to the bottom surface of the ice. Then they flip upside down and, using cutoff hockey sticks, try to work around either a sponge-rubber puck or a tennis ball so that it bobs up through a hole in the ice for a goal. Because of the possibility of tangled safety lines, only four divers play at a time.
The sport, which has been played for many years around Winnipeg, has not been able to develop a large following elsewhere, perhaps because it's not an easy game to follow. According to one participant, Chris Miller, "When you are under three or four feet of ice, not many people can watch you. All you see are feet and the puck. It looks pretty funny."
This flip side of ice hockey does have one thing to recommend it. Says Bob Bartmanovich, co-owner of the B & B Scuba shop in Winnipeg, "There hasn't been any fighting that I know of. You wouldn't be able to get up the momentum for a punch, anyway. And there's no such thing as high-sticking." Or is that low-sticking?
SORRY, WRONG NUMBER
Auxiliary Bishop Eugene Marino will soon leave Washington and his beloved Redskins to become archbishop of Atlanta. Marino will thus become the nation's first black Roman Catholic archbishop, but, according to Marino, that's not why he was named to replace the late Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan. "When Bishop Donnellan died, there were prayers for a new bishop," says Marino. "At the same time, there were some people praying for a better football team in Atlanta. Somehow, the prayer lines got crossed, and they were sent the wrong Marino. They were really praying for the quarterback."
THEY SAID IT
•Bob Ojeda, New York Mets pitcher, when asked whether he would like to have the fastball of teammate Randy Myers: "Not if I have to have his brain too."
•Tom Penders, newly named basketball coach at Texas, on why he won't make any predictions as to how good the Longhorns will be: "A good friend of mine told me a long time ago that the best way to save face is to keep the lower half of it shut."
•Dan Fouts, former San Diego Chargers quarterback, after announcing that he was calling it quits: "Now that I'm retired, I want to say that all defensive linemen are sissies."