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Basketball universe rallies in defense of Maori Davenport, condemns the AHSAA

Davenport was ruled ineligible to play her senior year because of an erroneous payment from USA Basketball. Although she returned the money, Steve Savarese, the executive director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association, ruled her ineligible and denied two appeals to reinstate her.

South Florida v Rutgers
Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer sounded off against the Alabama High School Athletic Association for ruling her star recruit ineligible to play her senior year.
Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images

Some of the most prominent voices in the world of women’s basketball have rallied around Maori Davenport — a high school senior and “star incoming recruit” for Rutgers — who was ruled ineligible to play her senior year by the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) after she cashed a stipend check from USA Basketball.

After helping Team USA win gold at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Mexico last summer, USA Basketball sent Davenport a stipend check in the amount of $850. The problem is that the AHSAA bans student-athletes from receiving compensation in amounts higher than $250, which Davenport did not know.

Being that Davenport is a high school student, the onus was on USA Basketball to gain approval to send the check to Davenport before doing so.

USA Basketball has admitted to the error and Davenport quickly returned the money as soon as she learned there was a problem. But Davenport, ranked No. 15 in the nation, was still ruled ineligible and her two appeals of the ruling were denied. At the request of Davenport’s parents, Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer did not speak in the media about the situation because they wanted to let the process play out. But now that Davenport continues to miss games, Stringer has sounded off in defense of her star recruit.

“Who steps up? Who protects her?” Stringer told NJ Advance Media. “Maori hadn’t done a doggone thing except receive the check from USA Basketball. It was grown-ups’ fault. And grown-ups did not lay claim to that. Maori sent the money back the next day. She’s a great kid, great student. She tried to do the right thing. And then the Alabama association … are you kidding me? This girl was up for player of the year, All-American. How can you do that?”

Apparently, AHSAA and Steve Savarese, its executive director, are entrenched in the STAY THE COURSE modus operandi, even if the COURSE is one of harm.

This strategy is nothing new — we see it every day in politics, with elected and appointed officials digging their heels in for the sake of a personal “win” (no matter the consequences to others); we see it when people deal with mistakes not with apologies and amendments but lies and cover-ups.

Admitting fault can be hard, especially on a national or international stage. But a man’s struggle to tamp down his ego and cultivate humility should not derail a young woman’s basketball career. Being an adult leading an organization that is supposed to serve the best interests of children requires him to do the right thing, no matter how painful summoning that strength may be.

Because it requires strength to admit to mistakes and make things right.

The good news is that the women’s basketball world is not standing for this. Some of the biggest names in the sport are lending their voices to Davenport’s cause, with Dallas Wings head coach Brian Agler essentially holding down “Maori Watch” on Twitter:

Dawn Staley, head coach of the USA Basketball Women’s National Team and the South Carolina Gamecocks, issued an emotional appeal:

Mechelle Voepel of ESPN has been on the case from the very beginning:

Her ESPN colleague Jay Bilas entered the mix with full-on condemnation of Savarese:

Gwendolyn Loyd, mother of Seattle Storm guard Jewell, added her voice to Davenport’s cause:

Hall of Famer Rebecca Lobo sounded off on ESPN2 and tweeted this:

As leader of the AHSAA, Steve Savarese is responsible for ruling on these matters but also for setting an example for the young people whose fates he holds in his hands. What kind of example is being set when a governing body (USA Basketball) makes an error and admits it, the student returns the money the next day and the AHSAA still rules the student ineligible to play her senior year and denies two appeals for reinstatement?

The only lesson to be learned from this preventable maelstrom is that lacking the humility to admit fault and right wrongs is a path of destruction. If Steve Savarese cannot model something better for the student-athletes he governs, perhaps he isn’t the best person for the job.