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."