What once started and looked like an honest mistake has turned into a complete and utter disaster. One of the nation’s top high school girls basketball players cannot play the game she loves over an error, and now the state high school officials who made the decision look like fools.
Over the summer, Charles Henderson High School star and Rutgers signee Maori Davenport got the opportunity of a lifetime to play for USA Basketball, and even won a gold medal with the Team USA U18 team in Mexico City. It was a special moment, no doubt, but it came at a massive price.
Davenport received a check for $857.20 for “lost wages” from USA Basketball after participating with the program, which was a mistake. She even repaid the money three months later. However, the 6-foot-4 post player from Troy, Alabama is suspended by the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) and executive director Steve Savarese for violating the “Amateur Rule” and likely won’t play another game with her high school team.
ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas has a very strong voice and opinion in these situations, and this is one he is definitely not wrong about. Davenport received the check by mistake and her mother, Tara, returned the money 91 days after it hit the bank.
Yet, after two appeals were denied, and thanks to AHSAA Central Board of Control President Johnny Hardin’s lengthy statement, Davenport will likely be watching the rest of the season from the bench and it has caused quite the national media frenzy.
“The stories and comments being circulated throughout the media and social networks are asking that an exception be made to the Amateur Rule because it was not the student’s fault; the fact the money was repaid, and that the student is an exceptional athlete and will miss her senior year. However, if exceptions are made, there would no longer be a need for an Amateur Rule. The Rules are applied equally to ALL athletes. Furthermore, most eligibility violations are the result of adults failing to follow the rules. Here, the student’s mother as a certified AHSAA Coach should know the rules; the School’s Principal should know the rules, the Head Basketball Coach, as not only a Coach but also as a former Central Board member, should know the rules.
“Another point not mentioned in the public stories being circulated is that creating an exception to this Rule would have provided an avenue to exploit student-athletes by providing an opportunity for students to receive money and prizes for athletic participation and if discovered, state they didn’t know the rule, thus allowing them to return the items and retain eligibility. This is why AHSAA stresses to the leadership of its member schools how important it is to know the rules and advise their students regarding all rules that affect eligibility. Informing student-athletes of the consequences for violating such rules is the responsibility of the adults supervising them.
“It should be pointed out that a high school student from Illinois also received payment from USA Basketball. However, that student called her high school once she received the check and then returned the check to USA Basketball without cashing or depositing it. Here, the student received the check, endorsed it and it was posted to her bank account. Three months later, AHSAA was notified and the monies returned to USA Basketball.”
— AHSAA Central Board of Control President Johnny Hardin
In summary: Maori Davenport, a high school basketball player, is being punished because she played on the national team, and a group of adults made a clerical error on a stipend check.
If this was such an open-and-shut case, why did Hardin spend so much time drafting an obnoxiously long letter?
And if the funds were repaid as soon as officials were notified of the error, why should any of this matter?
It doesn’t make any sense for Davenport not to play, especially considering the funds have been returned. Even USA Basketball board chairman Martin Dempsey and CEO Jim Tooley wrote letters to get Davenport reinstated.
Davenport led the Charles Henderson Trojans to the Alabama Class 5A state championship as a junior last season and registered 20 points, 25 rebounds, and 19 blocks in a title game loss as a sophomore.
It’s unfortunate one of the best players in the country cannot play her high school senior season and maybe even more so that state officials are using technicality against the situation to make sure she doesn’t see the floor.
Perhaps the Alabama Legislature can make it right and end this madness once and for all.