If Alabama had hoped to return to a semblance of basketball normalcy after a week of headlines about freshman star Brandon Miller and his proximity last month to a fatal shooting, that ended Saturday with the introduction of the Crimson Tide’s starting lineup before its 86-83 win over Arkansas.
When Miller’s name was announced, he slapped teammates’ hands as he ran onto the court, and then, with his arms outstretched, was patted down by another player. It was not the first time Miller has participated in this introduction, per ESPN.
Miller, a certain lottery pick in this year’s NBA draft, has led Alabama to a 25-4 record, a No. 2 national ranking and a likely No. 1 seed in next month’s NCAA tournament. But he and the school were cast in a different national spotlight last week when further details about the Jan. 15 shooting death of 23-year-old Jamea Jonae Harris came to light.
Coach Nate Oats and the university drew heavy criticism about their reaction to details about Miller’s role in a capital murder case in which former Crimson Tide player Darius Miles and Michael “Buzz” Davis were charged. Neither Miller nor fellow freshman Jaden Bradley, who were at the scene, is a suspect in the murder, but, after Saturday’s win, in which Miller scored 24 points, Oats apologized, adding that he was unaware of what went on during player introductions.
“Before I get started on the game, it was my brought to my attention after the game about our pregame introductions,” Oats said after his postgame news conference was delayed. “I think that’s something that’s been going on all year. I don’t really know. I don’t really watch our introductions. I’m not involved with them. I’m drawing up plays during that time. Regardless, it’s not appropriate. It’s been addressed and I can assure you it definitely will not happen again for the remainder of this year.”
Criticism was swift, fueled in part by what became a viral video from Birmingham TV station WVTM, and Alabama’s reaction — rather than action — on the matter.
“Can anyone at this university realize that maybe — maybe — this is an extremely bad look for a player who allegedly transported the murder weapon in his car to the scene of the crime and was present during the killing?” Sports Illustrated wrote. “That former Alabama player Darius Miles is charged with a capital murder that was committed while he was on the team? That fellow starter Jaden Bradley was allegedly also at the scene of the shootout?
“Can anyone at Alabama show some class and accountability?”
USA Today wondered why Miller continues to play, a question that is only going to intensify during March Madness. “It’s our job to make sure that Alabama’s season, as long as it goes, cannot be separated from the reality that the school’s administration has proceeded all along as if there was nothing to see here and its best player did nothing wrong.”
Miller delivered a gun to Miles, who then handed it to Davis, a court hearing revealed last week. When asked why the 20-year-old Miller was not charged, Tuscaloosa chief deputy district attorney Paula Whitley said, “That’s not a question I can answer. There’s nothing we could charge him with.”
There’s no good way to talk about Alabama basketball right now
Jay Bilas, the former Duke player and ESPN analyst who is also a lawyer, has defended Alabama’s handling of the situation.
“I think Alabama has handled this about as well as you can with the exception of Nate Oats in his news conference where he should have just said ‘This is a pending legal matter. Alabama and Brandon Miller have cooperated fully with authorities and will continue to do so, but beyond that, we will have no further comment,’” Bilas said last week on “Pardon the Interruption.” “That’s what he should have said and that should be the answer to all of these questions.
“Brandon Miller has rights. The authorities have told Alabama he’s a witness, not a suspect. There’s no indication that he has violated any law. They know him better than we do, and if they didn’t take action five weeks ago or so when this horrible tragedy happened, I don’t see any reason to do it now. Now, if something else comes out I understand it, but to me, if he were held out of competition now that would be Alabama saying, ‘Our reputation as a university and what people say about us is more important than our player.’ I think they’ve balanced the player and the university and those interests pretty well overall.”
Miller, who had used an image of the pregame ritual as his Twitter banner until it was changed Sunday, has not missed a game and scored a career-best 41 points Wednesday, the day after being linked to the shooting. On Saturday, Alabama’s sports information director sought to limit questions to the game, according to ESPN. However, one reporter asked if Oats had reached out to Harris’s family, whose parents criticized him for allowing Miller to continue to play and for saying last week that Miller “hasn’t been in any type of trouble, nor is he in any type of trouble in this case. Wrong spot at the wrong time.”
“Listen, to address it a little bit,” Oats said Saturday. “I apologize for my previous comments this week. We understand the severity of it all, but I’m following the administration’s lead on everything here, so we’re going to talk about the game is what they would like for me to talk about.”
Alabama has not made Miller or any player available to the media, leaving Oats to speak on his star’s frame of mind.
“He’s one of the most mentally, if not the most mentally tough kid I’ve ever coached in my life and I’ve been coaching for a while,” Oats said. “While he completely understands the situation’s tragic and he takes it very seriously and he’s been cooperating the whole time, he’s also done a great job being able to focus on practices, games and just getting this laser focus where he’s dialed in to where his feet are at.”