The celebrity heat on the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) continues to rise after the AHSAA’s season-long suspension of star Henderson High School (Troy, Ala.) girls basketball player Maori Davenport. But even now, with NBA All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and ESPN commentator Jay Bilas coming to Davenport’s defense, the AHSAA has refused to consider granting an exception that would allow Davenport to return for her senior season.
Davenport is a five-star center for Henderson who has signed to play at Rutgers. As reported here and elsewhere, Henderson was suspended for the season after she received a payment of just less than $900 for her travel with USA Basketball this summer.
While that payment was small enough to escape NCAA punishment, it was still a violation of the AHSAA’s amateur rule. That detail escaped the focus of USA Basketball because Davenport is one of the only members of the team that still had high school eligibility.
Of course, now she doesn’t, thanks to that $857.20 check for lost wages, even though the check was returned in full to the NCAA. And despite Cousins’ support and an op-ed written by Bilas for ESPN on her behalf, the AHSAA is refusing to reconsider it’s stance.
Part of that organizational obstinance is grounded in the circumstances surrounding Davenport herself. As reported by AL.com, Davenport’s mother is a certified Alabama basketball coach, and Henderson’s head coach is a former member of the AHSAA Central Board of Control. As the Board of Control noted in a lengthy statement to the media, “she should not only appreciate the importance of knowing and following the AHSAA bylaws and eligibility rules but also understand how imperative it is to consistently uphold the same rules.”
And while public outcry continues to demand Davenport’s return, AHSAA has also noted that its bylaws prohibit Executive Director Steve Savarese from making such a move himself. Rather, the appellate process is needed to overturn any ruling, including the one Savarese had to make regarding Davenport because her payment violated the amateur clause.
Those appeals have now been exhausted, and nothing has changed.
Anyone holding out hope for a change in heart or policy from the AHSAA Central Board of Control may also feel downtrodden after reading this section from its statement to the media:
“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.
“A high school student from Missouri has also been ruled ineligible for this basketball season for accepting the lost wages payment from USA Basketball.
“USA Basketball never called Charles Henderson High School or AHSAA to ask if payment for lost wages violated AHSAA rules until November which was three months after payment was made and accepted by the student. This was not a clerical error but a complete lack of administrative oversight on the part of USA Basketball, thus possibly rendering multiple student-athletes ineligible as most states have an Amateur Rule.”
One note here: USA Basketball reached out to USA Today to report that the ineligible player in Missouri mentioned above is actually being held out because of concerns about her transfer between schools, not because of accepting any payment from USA Basketball.
The moral of the story? If anyone extends a high school athlete money, they must make sure it’s allowed, regardless of the legitimacy of the organization behind it. In the short run, that means we have almost certainly seen the last of Maori Davenport’s brilliant high school career.
Davenport averaged 18.2 points, 12 rebounds and 5.1 blocks per game as a junior. With USA Basketball over summer, she started four of six games. She was also selected to the ALL-USA Preseason Girls Basketball team entering this season.