Antebi, a 43-year-old executive with the investment firm of Bear Stearns & Co., is an active UCLA supporter. Bruins senior star Reggie Miller lives in Antebi's chauffeur's quarters, and Biegel and Higgins say that during their visit Miller was present. They say that after a short while Biegel left alone. Higgins says, "[Antebi] didn't say much at first. Then he said I could stay there after Reggie [moved out]. He said he wanted to be my godfather; that he would look after me. He seemed like a nice guy, but I didn't need anyone to look after me.
"He said he could make me a certain amount of money in four years. He said I could work for him during the summer, and he would invest the money. He said he could take the money I made in the summer and turn it into more money. He said he would get me a car not long after I signed."
Miller's living arrangement is not against NCAA rules, provided he uses his room-and-board stipend from the university for rent. (Miller confirms that he lives on the Antebi estate and says, "My checkbook will indicate that I pay a fair rent.") But offering a car as an inducement to a recruit is a violation. As for a visit by Higgins to Antebi's house, the NCAA forbids off-campus contact between boosters and recruits. Asked about a Higgins visit to his house and offers he may have made to him, Antebi would say only, "I was not involved in the recruitment of Sean Higgins." Biegel says that while he was in Antebi's house he did not hear Antebi make Higgins any offers. "I had a glass of punch, exchanged pleasantries and then left. Sean went home with his stepfather."
Despite UCLA's interest in him, Higgins says that around 8 p.m. on Nov. 17, the day before the press conference, he told his mother he had decided on Michigan. "She didn't say anything," he says. About an hour later Higgins says he left the apartment and called his father from a pay phone in a nearby parking lot. Earle Higgins wasn't in, but Sean reached his half-sister Jamie in Ann Arbor. "He told her he was coming to Michigan," says Earle. "He was really saying that all along. He had me send him a Michigan jersey. He wanted to wear it at the press conference. Number 24. The same number I wore in college."
"I idolize my dad," Sean says. Yet he insists it was an affinity for the school and a desire to play in the Big Ten—not the lure of his father, now a scheduling coordinator at Chrysler—that steered him toward Michigan. "To me, the Pac-10 is soft, like Little Red Riding Hood," says Sean. "I'm more of a hard-core basketball player. I like to mix it up with the big brothers."
By the time he returned to the apartment after calling Ann Arbor, Sean says, his mother "had a different outlook on things [because of a] conversation she had with [her husband]. He changed her mind." Sean says he was watching TV in his room when his mother summoned him into her bedroom. "She said, 'Why don't you go back there [to Michigan] now,' " Sean says. "Basically...if I was going to Michigan, she wanted me to get out. I went back [to his bedroom]. I didn't care. I was getting out anyway."
Sean says the trouble with his stepfather began at dawn. He says Benson-Bey ordered him to stay put, then left the apartment. A neighbor says he witnessed subsequent events. He says that Benson-Bey told him he was going to a nearby store to buy cigarettes. Higgins says he then left and returned to the phone booth in the parking lot to call his father in Michigan. After Benson-Bey discovered that Sean had left, he went looking for him, picked him up in the parking lot and took him home.
According to Sean and the neighbor, Benson-Bey struck Sean on his shoulder outside the apartment. "Cliff went around and opened the car door for Sean," the neighbor says. "He told him, 'Get your ass in the house,' and kind of pushed him in. He said he was tired of 'you running over your mother.' "
Once inside the apartment, says Sean, Benson-Bey confronted him, demanding, "Are you going to UCLA or not?" Sean says he did not reply, and Benson-Bey slapped him in the face. How hard? Sean illustrates by delivering an open-hand roundhouse that cracks into a visitor's hand. "It was brutal force. I didn't just take it," Sean continues. "I slapped him back and pushed him away with my hands. He's a big guy, but I wasn't going to take that."
Higgins says he then went into his room, where he sat at his desk, and that his stepfather soon appeared brandishing a baseball bat. "He had it in his hand, standing over me.... I felt threatened. He'd just slapped me; what else was he going to do to me? He gave me the letter. He had a pen in his hand. He said to sign the letter. I didn't want to sign, but I didn't want to get hit, either. That's when I signed."