In the aftermath of the Jonathan Nicola scandal, anyone and everyone who has come into contact with the 30-year-old South Sudanese refugee has been put under the microscope as the general public struggles to understand how no one learned Nicola was 13 years older than he claimed to be. No one has received more of that wrath than Catholic Central basketball coach Peter Cusumano, who not only coached the player but also put him up in his home.
In the lone interview the coach has provided since Nicola was detained when trying to cross the U.S. border, Cusumano defended his own role in the incident, insisting that he agreed to help and coach Nicola because he had copious official paperwork stipulating that he was a 17-year-old athlete fleeing South Sudan.
“He’d been vetted twice by government officials and arrives with all his documents,” Cusumano told The Windsor Star, which held a conversation with the coach. “Is the school supposed to call Canadian Border Services and tell them they got it all wrong? We have over 400 kids here (Catholic Central) who were born outside the country. We don’t have the resources to deal with that.
“What’s been tough to take are the insinuations that I knew his age all along. If that was the case, I’d be an idiot for taking him to the U.S. embassy to get a visa, knowing he had false documents.”
Cusumano has a reputation for helping athletes in need, particularly those from the inner city or foreign countries. Nicola fell squarely within that group, and while Cusumano admitted he is upset he was lied to by Nicola, who was in Canada on a now-illegitimate student visa, he also defended the 30 year-old for escaping South Sudan when he desperately needed.
According to the Star, Cusumano has visited Nicola in detention multiple times since he was held by Canadian border officials. He continues to defend his former player, though that hasn’t made the impact on he and his family any more tolerable.
“It’s really impacted my family,” Cusumano told the Star. “My wife is crying. She’s horribly upset by all this. She agreed to open our home to help this kid. We took him in as one of our own. He was included in all our family activities. This is very hurtful. Not just Jonathan lying, but by the way my name is being portrayed out there. …
“(Sudanese coaches) were looking for a place to put this kid. (Former NBA Scout Greg Dole) said, ‘I know a coach in Canada that’s good at developing young players.’ At the time, our son had gone to Alberta to work full time and we thought the timing was right because we had an extra bedroom. Now, we’re implicated in this because we were generous enough to share our home. I’m complicit in some way. Nothing could be further than the truth.”