By JOHN ZENOR, AP Sports Writer
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — One of the nation’s top girls high school basketball players appears likely to remain benched for her entire senior season after spending part of last summer playing with USA Basketball.
Maori Davenport, who received an $857.20 check from USA Basketball that was later repaid, has been trying to get into games this season in Troy, Alabama after being suspended by state high school officials.
Davenport, a Charles Henderson High School senior and Rutgers signee, was ruled ineligible on Nov. 30 after receiving the money for “lost wages.” She was a member of the U.S. team that won the gold medal in a tournament in Mexico City.
“Maori has not done a doggone thing, except receive a check from doggone USA Basketball,” Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer said recently. “It was grown-ups at fault. And grown-ups did not lay claim to that.”
Alabama high school officials agree adults are a fault, but are standing by their decision, saying the rules are the rules.
Two appeals on Davenport’s behalf have been denied and Monday state officials defended the suspension.
Johnny Hardin, president of the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s Central Board of Control, issued a statement saying Davenport had adults around her who should have known the rules. He pointed out that the Aug. 15 payment wasn’t reported for 91 days and that Davenport played in “several games” during that time, violating the state’s amateurism rule.
He also noted that Davenport’s mother, Tara, is an assistant coach for Charles Henderson who has AHSAA certification. USA Basketball informed the AHSAA about the payment in November, said Craig Miller, spokesman for the basketball organization.
“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,” Hardin said. “However, if exceptions are made, there would no longer be a need for an amateur rule.
“The rules are applied equally to ALL athletes,” the release stated. “Furthermore, most eligibility violations are the result of adults failing to follow the rules.”
Hardin said other adults should also have known the rules, including Charles Henderson’s principal Brock Kelley and head coach Dyneshia Jones, adding that Jones is a former Central Board member.
Nonetheless, people have come to Davenport’s defense and criticized the decision.
Golden State Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins, an Alabama native, urged the AHSAA on Twitter to “Fix this now!”
“What the Alabama High School Athletic Association has done to Maori Davenport is wrong on so many levels that I don’t know where to start,” Cousins, posted on Twitter Sunday.
Stringer called Davenport “a great kid” and said: “Who steps up? Who protects her? And nobody did.”
“This was for USA Basketball,” she said. “It’s the next thing to the Olympics. That’s the road you travel (to) the Olympics and they turn around and Alabama decides they will supersede that decision? I have a whole lot of things to say about that and Maori’s such a sweetheart, she would never say a negative word about anybody.”
Hardin pointed out that another high school student in Illinois, Notre Dame recruit Anaya Peoples, called her high school after receiving the money from USA Basketball and returned it without cashing or depositing the check. She remained eligible.
Aijha Blackwell of Missouri was also on the team and received money. Blackwell, a University of Missouri signee, has left her private school. Miller said Missouri high school athletic officials have indicated to USA Basketball that she will be able to play once she is ruled eligible at another school under transfer rules and repays the money.
A spokesman for the Missouri State High School Activities Association said he could not comment on students’ eligibility, but said the organization has a similar amateur rule to Alabama.
Miller said USA Basketball’s board chairman Martin Dempsey and CEO Jim Tooley wrote letters urging Davenport’s reinstatement. Tooley and women’s national team director Carol Callan both appeared before the Central Board.
“I’m starting almost my 30th year at USA basketball and this has never happened before,” Miller said. “We’ve paid probably thousands of kids over the years legitimately.”
Davenport led Charles Henderson to a Class 5A state championship as a junior and a runner-up performance as a sophomore. She had 20 points, 25 rebounds and a state-record 19 blocks in the championship game loss.
She was runner-up for Alabama’s Miss Basketball honors last season. Now, her high school career appears over.
Kelley and Tara Davenport didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. AHSAA executive director Steve Savarese also was not available for comment.
“It hurts me to see a young person hurt like that and adults who are hiding behind state rules,” Stringer said.