AHSAA defends Maori Davenport suspension in new statement

Jay Bilas breaks down the ruling that has left Alabama high school senior Maori Davenport ineligible to play her senior basketball season.

Johnny Hardin, president of the central board of control of the Alabama High School Sports Association, on Monday released a statement defending the organization's decision to suspend Maori Davenport for the entirety of her senior season.

The Davenport case gained national attention last week as basketball bigwigs, including Chris Paul, Dawn Staley, C. Vivian Stringer and DeMarcus Cousins, came to the Rutgers recruit's defense.

Davenport helped lead Team USA to a gold medal at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in August. USA Basketball sent Davenport a check for $857.20 later that month. USA Basketball routinely sends checks to players in its summer programs to help them recover costs, including lost wages and employment opportunities. USA Basketball officials admitted they failed to confer with the AHSAA prior to sending the check to determine its rules.

In the Monday AHSAA statement, Hardin singles out USA Basketball, Tara Davenport, Maori Davenport's mother; and Dyneshia Jones, Maori Davenport's coach at Charles Henderson High School.

"The student's mother is a certified AHSAA Basketball Coach; therefore, she is required to uphold current AHSAA bylaws and rules," the Hardin statement reads. "Furthermore, the Head Girls' Basketball Coach at CHHS is a former member of the AHSAA Central Board of Control; thus, 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."

When reached by phone, Tara Davenport expressed outrage at the AHSAA statement.

"I'm getting very angry," she said. "They are trying to pull stuff out after all this national attention.

"I'm a fifth-grade teacher and here as a volunteer coach. I just help on game day. I have not been trained on the amateur rule."

Jones, meanwhile, said she was unaware a check had been issued to Davenport, mailed to Davenport or endorsed by Davenport until the day before the money was returned to USA Basketball.

"I can't read minds," she said. "The day I found out about it was the day before the check was returned."

The AHSAA statement notes that three months expired between the time the check was issued, on Aug. 15, and the time the AHSAA was notified of the check's existence.

According to Tara Davenport, USA Basketball first alerted her to its error on Nov. 27 and the money was repaid on Nov. 28. Davenport said she left a voicemail for AHSAA executive director Steve Savarese on Nov. 28, but she never heard back from him.

"The only reason I didn't question the check is because it was from USA Basketball," she said. "I felt like they are big time, and I didn't have to question it."

USA Basketball president Jim Tooley traveled to Alabama for the final appeals hearing to support Davenport and to accept responsibility for the clerical error.

Hardin, however, called the error "a complete lack of administrative oversight on the part of USA Basketball."

Craig Miller, chief communications officer for USA Basketball, reiterated Monday that his organization is responsible.

"We take a lot of pride in our professionalism; we think our credibility is beyond reproach," Miller said. "This has never happened before in USA Basketball history."

Hardin's statement defended Savarese and his application of the Alabama Handbook.

"Steve Savarese, as AHSAA Executive Director, made the eligibility ruling based upon the plain language of the Amateur Rule. As Executive Director, Mr. Savarese does not have the authority to change a rule. Rather, as Executive Director, his job is to apply the rules as written," Hardin said. ...

"The stories and comments being circulated throughout the media and social networks are asking that an exception be made to the Amateur Rule because it was not the student's fault; the fact the money was repaid, and that the student is an exceptional athlete and will miss her senior year. However, if exceptions are made, there would no longer be a need for an Amateur Rule. The Rules are applied equally to ALL athletes."

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