Column: Maori Davenport story proves the kids are alright – not so much the adults

Photo Credit: Jody Demling/247Sports

As we go and grow through life, we learn a multitude of indelible and valuable lessons from our elders. Whether they are our parents, older siblings, uncles, friends, professors, business colleagues, we look to these adults to be wiser than us young people who are just now starting to figure out what life is all about.

These lessons are always treated as a rite of passage in hopes that eventually these same young people in the current generation will instill their messages of wisdom to that which will follow them.

As we grow into adulthood, we find out these same adults do not exactly have their stuff together. In fact – maybe the kids had it right all along.

Take for example, the much-ballyhooed situation involving Maori Davenport, a senior at Charles Henderson High School in Troy, Alabama, No. 15 prospect on ESPNW’s HoopGurlz Top 100, and Rutgers commit.

Davenport recently played for the U-18 team for USA Basketball. She helped Team USA to a gold medal in Mexico at the FIBA Americas U18 championship last summer.

The crux of the issue comes in the form of an $850 stipend check that USA Basketball sent to Davenport. That check was accepted and cashed, but USA Basketball did not contact the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) or Charles Henderson High School prior to the check being sent.

Only after finding out the check was for an illegal amount per AHSAA bylaws since they ban student-athletes from accepting stipends higher than $250 was the money returned to USA Basketball.

Davenport had no idea. Still, the AHSAA ruled Davenport ineligible for her senior season at CHHS – a ruling that has led to a groundswell of support for the future Scarlet Knight.

Davenport’s future coach at Rutgers, C. Vivian Stringer, also did not mince words on the situation in comments made to NJ.com.


Maori hadn’t done a doggone thing except receive the check from USA Basketball. It was growon-ups’ fault. And grown-ups did not lay claim to that. Maori sent the money back the next day. She’s. 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.

–C. Vivian Stringer (NJ.com)

Stringer hit the nail on the head. Davenport is being punished by the AHSAA for an error on the part of USA Basketball.

The AHSAA and its Central Board of Control president Johnny Hardin issued a statement that surely came off like an inflammatory release that came out of the White House.

They defended the suspension by claiming that Davenport’s mother – also a basketball coach in Alabama – only returned the check three months later and decried media organizations for reporting what it deemed as “false information.”

Interestingly enough, this same claim that the Davenports only returned the $850 stipend in November (after the check was received in August) was reported by a political website in Alabama before the AHSAA put out its statement.

The AHSAA is clearly attempting to put the blame on Davenport and her family for the ruling while the public is looking at the AHSAA itself. Ultimately, the blame is on USA Basketball, and because of its clerical error, it has cost Davenport the chance to end her high school career on a high note.

Montgomery has some explaining to do as does Colorado Springs. There is an online petition that (as of this writing) has nearly 15,000 signatures – and that number will surely rise.

The theories on why the AHSAA and its executive director Steve Savarese are being such sticklers for the “rule of law” when other rulings have been rescinded in the past are aplenty. They range from the AHSAA setting different rules for football players and girls basketball players (it is clear as day that the NCAA, its conferences, and its schools do this all the time since so many universities – especially those in Alabama – are hypnotized by football money).

Others have claimed that if Davenport had committed to a school within the state of Alabama (Alabama, Auburn, UAB, South Alabama, Troy, etc.) she would be reinstated faster than you can say “Roll Tide” or “War Eagle.”

Others have even believed that this smarts of good old fashioned Alabama racism.

Whatever is the AHSAA’s motive here – one thing rings true. Davenport’s ruling has everything to do with the incompetence of adults at very high levels of youth, amateur, and Olympic sport.

This is not the first time overzealous grown folks have attempted to ruin youth sport at the expense of youth athletes. Sadly – it will not be the last.

Whether it is the Jackie Robinson West little league baseball team in Chicago being stripped of its championship because of zoning boundaries or the all-too-common acts of adults treating youth and high school sports like it is the World Cup, Super Bowl, Game 7 of the World Series, or Game 5 of the WNBA Finals, maybe it is the adults that need to sit in timeout.

Another glaring note is that Savarese later this year is slated to be an inductee in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. In a just world, this public relations debacle the AHSAA (and USA Basketball for that matter) are seeing would be somewhere on his plaque.

Davenport deserves to play her senior season at CHHS and receive all of the accolades that will come with her senior campaign – including a spot in the McDonald’s All-American Game in late March at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena – the home court of the Atlanta Dream (and Hawks).

Instead, the next time she steps on a basketball court will be in Piscataway, New Jersey in 2019 unless the AHSAA comes to its senses. And while she eventually will win in the end as she will be under the tutelage of a legendary basketball coach in Stringer (an adult who gets it, by the way), this should be seen as a cautionary tale of how too often the sanctity of youth sports is tarnished not by those “young, immature, out-of-control, crazy kids,” but the “old, stubborn, and out-of-touch” grown-ups.

This sends a horrible message also to up-and-comers that rise through the ranks of AHSAA schools in non-football sports that they could have their hopes and dreams dashed because those in the ivory towers of Montgomery (as well as Colorado Springs, in this case) did not have their T’s crossed and I’s dotted. Great way to encourage participation in prep sports, Alabama.

There is one person, though, who could put a stop to all of this. He will be on lots of people’s televisions inside and outside the state of Alabama tonight as his Crimson Tide football team prepares to play in the football national championship game against Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers.

Kay Ivey may be Alabama’s governor – but let us be honest, here. The football coach at Alabama – Nick Saban – is the most powerful person in the state. He is the highest paid public employee in Alabama and football is beyond larger than life in that state (ask Paul Finebaum).

Say the Tide defeat the Tigers tonight to bring another national title to Tuscaloosa and Saban calls for Davenport’s reinstatement in his postgame interview with ESPN while his team celebrates at midfield at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. When Saban speaks, Alabamans listen and something tells us Savarese will be no exception to that rule.

Davenport’s career at Charles Henderson High may have been ruined as the result of adults at the AHSAA and USA Basketball. It could take the words of another adult in Alabama’s unofficial governor – Saban – to reverse this unfair referee’s call and bring Davenport back to where she should be, and that is on the court donning Trojans blue and orange in her final season as a high school student-athlete.

Free. Maori. Davenport.

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