Maori Davenport is, by any measure, one of the best high school basketball players in the country. The 6’4″ center from Troy, Alabama is the No. 15 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100 for the 2019 class, has already committed to play at Rutgers in 2019 for legendary coach C. Vivian Stringer, and in August, she led Team USA in rebounding and blocks as it marched to a gold medal at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship.
Last year, when she was a junior, Davenport led Charles Henderson High School to its very first state title, capturing the MVP title along the way with an average of 18.2 points, 12.0 rebounds, 5.1 blocks, and 1.7 assists per game.
However, even though she is perfectly healthy, Davenport is relegated to the sidelines during her senior year of high school.
Why? Well, the Alabama High School Athletic Association has ruled her ineligible after USA Basketball accidentally sent Davenport an $857.20 stipend check.
Even though Davenport returned the check — and USA Basketball has fessed up to its mistake — the AHSAA has upheld this ruling through two appeals, according to an espnW article, which features the first public comments by Davenport regarding the incident.
“I never imagined I would be training a whole season without playing a game, but that seems like what’s happening,” Davenport told espnW.
This entire debacle hinges on a few things: The absurdity of amateurism, a ghastly mistake by USA basketball, and the stubbornness of the AHSAA.
First of all, it has to be said: Any rule that prevents a basketball player from earning a stipend for playing for her country is absolutely, positively preposterous. Amateurism is a sham.
That being said, this is the world we live in, and USA Basketball knows this. The organization has an agreement with the NCAA that permits them to pay players who don’t have any high school eligibility remaining a small amount for representing Team USA. However, if a player has high school eligibility remaining, as Davenport did, USA Basketball will typically check with their high school athletic association first, since rules and regulations differ in each state.
This time, the organization failed to take that crucial step.
“In all my years with USA Basketball, we have never had this happen before,” USA Basketball spokesman Craig Smith told espnW. “It was not a purposeful error.”
Davenport and two other high school seniors on the U18 team all received checks. When USA Basketball realized its mistake, it immediately reached out to the players and their athletic associations. The other two girls seem to have retained eligibility after repaying the money. However, the AHSAA has refused to budge. The case has been appealed twice, and upheld each time, once by the AHSAA district board, and then again by its central board, even though Davenport has repaid the stipend in full.
In a statement, AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese commended the board for its “commitment to upholding the AHSAA member-school by-laws in sometimes very difficult situations.”
For unknown reasons, the Alabama administrators have decided that any athlete receiving more than $250 for playing their sport — even if said money is repaid — is an affront to the sanctity of high school sport.
People across the nation are outraged on Davenport’s behalf. Nearly 10,000 people have signed a petition calling for Davenport’s reinstatement, and on Thursday, the WNBA called for the AHSAA to overturn the decision.
“The WNBA urges the Alabama High School Athletic Association to reinstate Maori Davenport,” it said in a statement on social media. “Let her play the rest of her senior season instead of being penalized for an honest mistake made by others.”
Remember: Davenport did absolutely nothing wrong. She performed exceedingly well for her country, cashed a stipend check from USA Basketball when it was mailed directly to her, and then returned the money immediately when she found out the check had been mistakenly sent to her. Even the NCAA, which usually does not exercise common sense in these cases, has said that this will not impact her college eligibility. And yet, here she is, sitting on the sidelines during her final year in high school, missing out on an opportunity to become a McDonald’s All-American and make lasting memories for her hometown team. Its a devastating turn of events for the 18-year-old.
“I realize this is the reality,” Davenport told espnW. “But it hasn’t gotten any easier.”