Alabama hoops star goes to court to get on the court

The Beaufort Gazette (Sunday) - - Sports - BY PAUL NEW­BERRY

Maori Daven­port had to go to court just to get back on the court.

How ridicu­lous it’s come to that for the Alabama high school bas­ket­ball star.

Thank­fully, a cruel and un­just rul­ing by the state’s gov­ern­ing body was put on hold Fri­day by a lo­cal judge, just hours be­fore Daven­port’s Charles Hen­der­son High School took the court for a game against Car­roll.

It was just a tem­po­rary victory, but at least it al­lowed Daven­port to play for the first time since Novem­ber.

We can only hope the judge sides with Daven­port again when he hears the facts of the case, though when that will hap­pen is un­clear. But, more im­por­tant, this lu­di­crous af­fair should serve as a les­son to all high school ad­min­is­tra­tors:

Rules are nec­es­sary, to be sure, but the peo­ple who carry them out should al­ways try to do what’s best for the kids who play the games.

That mantra is nowhere to be found in this case.

“I be­lieve in rules. But I also be­lieve in a fair and rea­son­able ap­pli­ca­tion of the rules,” said ESPN an­a­lyst Jay Bi­las, who has been lob­by­ing on Daven­port’s be­half. “High school teach­ers and high school coaches and high school ad­min­is­tra­tors are sup­posed to el­e­vate their young peo­ple, not keep them down.”

Daven­port’s se­nior sea­son – which should’ve been a tri­umphant last lap with her Charles Hen­der­son team­mates be­fore she headed off to play for Bas­ket­ball Hall of Famer Vi­vian Stringer at Rut­gers – was thrown into tur­moil over a sim­ple cler­i­cal er­ror.

Last sum­mer, Daven­port played for her coun­try at a youth tour­na­ment in Mex- ico City, an enor­mous honor for a player still in high school. As it nor­mally does, USA Bas­ket­ball sent out a mod­est stipend check of $857.20 to ev­ery­one who par­tic­i­pated.

That was not an is­sue for those play­ers who were al­ready head­ing to col­lege since the NCAA al­lows such pay­ments. But USA Bas­ket­ball failed to check on whether it ap­plied to high school play­ers such as Daven­port, who couldn’t ac­cept any money un­der the am­a­teurism rules of the Alabama High School Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion.

Daven­port’s fam­ily de­posited the check. Then, some three months later, af­ter learn­ing that the pay­ment was against AHSAA rules, they self-re­ported the vi­o­la­tion and re­paid the money to USA Bas­ket­ball.

“USA ad­mit­ted their mis­take,” said Tara Daven­port, the player’s mother and a coach at Charles Hen­der­son Mid­dle School. “Her dad and I sent the money back ASAP.” Case closed, right? Hardly.

The AHSAA said any vi­o­la­tion of its am­a­teurism rule car­ried an au­to­matic one-year sus­pen­sion, ef­fec­tively end­ing Maori Daven­port’s high school ca­reer. Charles Hen­der­son, the de­fend­ing Class 5A cham­pion, also was or­dered to for­feit its first four games, the ones that Daven­port played in be­fore turn­ing her­self in.

Daven­port ap­pealed the rul­ing, only to be turned down by two AHSAA pan­els. Even more ap­palling, the as­so­ci­a­tion put out a state­ment this week coldly de­fend­ing its de­ci­sion, es­sen­tially put­ting all the blame on Daven­port’s fam­ily as well as the coaches and ad­min­is­tra­tors at Charles Hen­der­son.

For Bi­las, that was the fi­nal straw.

“That state­ment was full of false­hoods and mean- spir­ited,” he said Fri­day. “It does not speak well of any­one in the state of Alabama, es­pe­cially those within the state high school ath­letic as­so­ci­a­tion. That was low-brow stuff.”

The AHSAA state­ment said Daven­port had adults around her who should have known the rules. It said the Aug. 15 pay­ment wasn’t re­ported for 91 days and only af­ter the start of Charles Hen­der­son’s sea­son, as if im­ply­ing that Daven­port’s fam­ily only fessed up when they were nailed.

“If ex­cep­tions are made, there would no longer be a need for an am­a­teur rule,” said the state­ment is­sued by Johnny Hardin, pres­i­dent of the AHSAA’s Cen- tral Board of Con­trol. “The rules are ap­plied equally to ALL ath­letes.”

But Bi­las pointed out that this was such an ex­tremely rare case, it didn’t even re­quire a rul­ing once the money was paid back.

“There’s no way that when the rule was put into place that this was even con­tem­plated,” he said. “I don’t know how many young peo­ple in Alabama play for their coun­try, but I’m guess­ing it’s not very many. Cer­tainly, not very many who still have high school el­i­gi­bil­ity.”

Good thing, he added, the AHSAA wasn’t around when that US Air­ways jet was forced to make an emer­gency land­ing in the Hud­son River. “I as­sume they would’ve cited Sully Sul­len­berger for boat­ing with­out a li­cense.”

The Daven­port rul­ing turned Alabama into a na­tional dis­grace, draw­ing uni­ver­sal con­dem­na­tion from all cor­ners of the sport­ing world.

Golden State Warriors star DeMar­cus Cousins, a na­tive of the state, de­manded that Daven­port be al­lowed to play. Kobe Bryant called it “just about the most ridicu­lous thing I’ve heard in youth bas­ket­ball.” Ten­nis great Bil­lie Jean King de­scribed the whole sit­u­a­tion as “mad­den­ing.”

“To force Maori Daven­port to miss her se­nior year of high school bas­ket­ball be­cause of a mis­take that wasn’t even her fault is non­sen­si­cal,” King wrote on Twit­ter.

The Alabama Leg­is­la­ture, usu­ally a bas­tion of no-non­sense law and or­der, even passed a res­o­lu­tion urg­ing the high school as­so­ci­a­tion to re­con­sider its de­ci­sion.

Daven­port still seems a bit over­whelmed by the whole af­fair. And no mat­ter what the judge ul­ti­mately rules, her se­nior year has been for­ever tar­nished.

That’s some­thing she’ll never get back.

“I don’t think I did any­thing wrong,” Daven­port told The As­so­ci­ated Press dur­ing a visit to the Leg­is­la­ture last week. “I was con­fused and I was shocked.”

She hopes no other else has to en­dure this sort of in­jus­tice.

“I just want them to help this not hap­pen to any other stu­dent-ath­lete in Alabama,” Daven­port said. “Just be clear about the rules. Al­ways com­mu­ni­cate with ev­ery high school. That way, this has no chance of hap­pen­ing again.”

Sounds like a rea­son­able re­quest.

Far more rea­son­able than what we’ve heard from the adults in the room.

HAL YEAGER AP

An Alabama judge has tem­po­rar­ily re­in­stated the el­i­gi­bil­ity of sus­pended girls prep bas­ket­ball player Maori Daven­port, right, seen in 2014.

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