TROY, Ala. -- After weeks of speculation and scrutiny, embattled high school basketball star Maori Davenport made her eagerly anticipated return to the court Friday night in Charles Henderson High's 72-17 victory over Carroll High (Ozark, Alabama).
It was her first game in 43 days, but the senior needed just 19 seconds to get on the scoreboard. She finished with 25 points and -- per the scorer's table -- had too many rebounds and assists to keep track of. The game will be reviewed via video for official statistics.
"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."
The 6-foot-4 forward/center was deemed ineligible by the Alabama High School Athletic Association in November for depositing an $857.20 stipend check mistakenly sent by USA Basketball after she played for its under-18 team in August.
The AHSAA said Davenport violated the state's amateurism rules when she deposited the check. Davenport repaid USA Basketball in full as soon as she was made aware of the error, but the AHSAA suspended her after the fourth game of the high school season and upheld that ruling twice upon appeal.
However, Davenport's parents filed a lawsuit Thursday against the AHSAA and its director, Steve Savarese. A judge granted an emergency temporary motion Friday morning, allowing Davenport to play that night.
The street leading to the school was littered with dozens of signs that read "We support Maori," and there was a standing-room-only crowd. Many of those in attendance were wearing "23" shirts or holding "We love MD" signs in her honor. A slew of local and national reporters were on hand to document her triumphant return.
The soft-spoken Davenport, who has committed to play at Rutgers next season, was visibly moved by the outpouring of support.
"I knew the city was behind me, but they really showed up and showed out today," she said after the game. "[The signs] were the coolest thing ever. I never imagined signs for me.
"I will never let myself forget this day. I will tell my grandkids one day about this and the night grandma scored 25 points and had a few rebounds."
Davenport and her team routed the opposition from the opening tip and took a 43-5 lead at halftime. Davenport scored 18 of her 25 points in the first two quarters.
Each basket, and touch of the ball, was met by an excited ovation from the crowd. She called her performance "OK," but was elated to be back on the court with her teammates -- and the feeling seemed mutual. Throughout the game, and after in the locker room, her teammates flocked around her with hugs and high-fives.
Several members of the team discussed how surreal the past several weeks have been.
"It's all really been a shock to me," senior Tatyana Siler said. "But when I saw Kobe Bryant, DeMarcus Cousins, Chris Paul were tweeting about it, I knew then she was going to come back. With their support, I think anybody could come back."
The Trojans next play Tuesday at Greenville High School, and Davenport is expected to be in the lineup. The next court hearing on her case will be at 2:30 p.m. ET on Jan. 22.