Maori Davenport's controversial season ends with stunning loss in Alabama regional final

Nicole Craine for ESPN

Maori Davenport and Charles Henderson were knocked out of the Alabama girls' basketball playoffs in a regional final on Wednesday.

Maori Davenport missed 16 games of her senior season of high school basketball after a controversial ruling by the Alabama High School Athletic Association. On Wednesday, her season ended two games shy of the goal.

Davenport and Charles Henderson High School (Troy, Alabama) fell 44-42 to Ramsay High School (Birmingham) in the Alabama Class 5A regional final at Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery. Charles Henderson led by 10 at halftime, but the defending state champions scored just 13 points in the second half. Charles Henderson had a chance to tie the game from the foul line with 4.9 seconds remaining, but missed both free throws. Davenport had eight points and 18 rebounds, and was named to the Southeast Regional all-tournament team.

"I'm not sad that we lost; I'm sad because I'll never get to play with this team, and these teammates, again," Davenport told espnW after the game. "But I'm really not mad we lost, because I lost with them. I wouldn't want to lose with any other team. And I was just happy I got to play and be out there.

"Man, this season was the craziest season I've ever had in my life. I never imagined it going like this, and my teammates have helped me stay balanced, and stay focused throughout, and that's why this loss does hurt. I wanted to keep going, keep playing for them, with them. We've always been close, but this year has drawn us even closer because of what we've gone through together."

A 6-foot-4 forward/center and Rutgers recruit, Davenport was deemed ineligible by the AHSAA in November for depositing an $857.20 stipend check erroneously sent by USA Basketball after she played for its under-18 team over the summer. The AHSAA claimed Davenport violated the state's amateurism rules when she deposited the check. Davenport repaid USA Basketball as soon as she was told of the mistake, but the AHSAA suspended her after the fourth game of the season and upheld that ruling twice upon appeal.

The ruling received national attention in January, and many prominent figures, including ESPN's Jay Bilas, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and Billie Jean King, voiced their support for Davenport. Her parents filed a lawsuit on Jan. 13 against the AHSAA and its director, Steve Savarese, and a judge granted an emergency temporary motion the next day allowing her to play that night and until the court ruled on the case.

In front of a packed home crowd, Davenport scored 25 points in a 72-17 victory over Carroll High (Ozark, Alabama). "It just felt like I belonged there," she said after the game. "It's like I left a place and I came back right where I belonged."

A hearing on Davenport's eligibility was scheduled for Jan. 22, but then postponed until Feb. 1, and then postponed yet again when the AHSAA requested to have the case moved from Pike County to Montgomery County. On Wednesday, the suit was dismissed by Pike County Circuit Judge Sonny Reagan at the request of Davenport's mother, Tara.

Davenport, the No. 15 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100, was not among the 24 players selected to play in the McDonald's All American Games next month in Atlanta.

Even though her high school career had ended just moments earlier, Davenport was already reflective of what the year has taught her.

"This season has given me a better perspective on life," she said. "Just because you're going through a storm, doesn't mean you have to let that control your life. With the people around me, I was able to control everything, even when it seemed impossible."

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