Alabama, Brandon Miller and the night that looms over this tournament


BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Brandon Miller is the best player on the best team in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Two months ago he was driving a car with a gun belonging to a teammate which was then used by another man to shoot and kill a young mother. The first sentence is a widely held opinion. The second was asserted by the Tuscaloosa Police Department and denied by anyone at the University of Alabama, including Miller. So these two storylines will somehow co-exist as long as the Crimson Tide stays in this tournament, which will be a while.

Miller travels with an armed guard to and from Legacy Arena — where the Crimson Tide will meet eighth-ranked Maryland at the top — a development Alabama coach Nate Oats said is necessary because, “If you do something seen from what I saw. I think you would understand why that is.”

So that’s a problem. The certainty is that Jamea Jonae Harris, the 23-year-old mother of a 5-year-old boy, is dead and that Miller will not be charged with a crime or prosecuted as a suspect. “I never lose sight of the fact that a family lost a loved one that night,” Miller said this month.

However, he has not publicly addressed what happened when Harris was killed. Jim Standridge, his attorney, said in a statement that Miller “never saw or handled the gun.” It belonged to his then-teammate Darius Miles, and Miles and his friend Michael Lynn Davis, who allegedly fired shots into a car Harris was riding in, have been charged with capital murder.

How exactly do you marry these events to Alabama’s prospects in a basketball tournament? One of them concerns the tragic death of a young woman. The other includes parentheses. Looking away feels intentionally ignorant. Remember: Miller doesn’t just do that find even in the middle. According to testimony from Branden Culpepper of the Tuscaloosa Violent Crimes Unit, Miles sent Miller a text message, and Miller then drove his car, which contained Miles’ gun, to a downtown Tuscaloosa entertainment district early in the morning of January 15.

It’s not exactly “the wrong place at the wrong time,” as Oats initially argued. ESPN reported that shots were fired from the car Harris was driving, hitting Miller’s car. That is shocking.

Nate Oats always stands behind his players. Did he go too far in Alabama?

On Friday, Oats spoke measuredly and hesitantly about how Miller has been handling himself since that night – and ever since police publicly claimed he was at the scene of Harris’ death.

“He’s a really good boy who I think has done a really good job dealing with a heartbreaking situation that we all know is very difficult,” Oats said. “So, you know, we just see him showing his mental toughness throughout the year. I think we all saw it.”

These reviews are just… off. Miller may not be a criminal, but he’s definitely not a victim. His basketball skills as a near-certain top-five pick in this year’s NBA draft are irrelevant considering Harris’ death and her orphaned son, and are still central to Saturday’s game against Maryland and all games that tie the tide then plays. Perhaps the storylines are less parallel and more intertwined, impossible to separate.

On Friday afternoon, Miller stood in front of an array of cameras and microphones in the Alabama locker room at Legacy Arena, flanked by two teammates.

“There are many lights,” he said.

He smiled, joked and was happy to answer questions about the groin strain disabling him or the Crimson Tide teammates supporting him. Alabama has unequivocally supported him. He hasn’t missed a game despite being what Alabama has described as a “cooperative witness” in a murder case involving a former teammate.

“Just tell him to keep his head up,” said forward Noah Gurley, standing next to Miller. “…We’re here to support him.”

2023 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament

Had the events of January 15 not happened or had Miller not been accused of driving the car with the gun, Alabama’s basketball would be history. The Crimson Tide is exceedingly talented and deep as the Pacific. Maryland coach Kevin Willard called Alabama the most talented collegiate team since those coached by his former boss Rick Pitino in Kentucky in the mid-1990s. As one coach watching Alabama’s inaugural win over Texas A&M Corpus Christi said, “You’re like Noah’s Ark. You have two of everything.”

“It’s a talented squad,” said Willard. “And I think what really impresses me about them…is how selfless they are. You really pass the basketball. It’s not a complicated offense, but it’s a good offense because they are selfless.”

The scouting report on 6ft 9, 200lb Miller, the SEC’s newcomer And player of the year?

“He’s playing at such a good pace for a freshman,” said Maryland point guard Jahmir Young. “He doesn’t force anything.”

“He’s such a tough player to play the wing court because he can dribble the ball,” said Terrapins forward Hakim Hart, who will defend Miller quite often.

“You’re not going to sit there and say, ‘Okay, we’re going to press him and make him dribble,'” Willard said. “He can dribble. He does plays and he is selfless.”

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It’s all a relevant and interesting basketball review that takes your eyes off the most important situation Miller was involved in during his freshman year in Alabama.

“This season is stained with the blood of Jamea Harris,” Kelvin Heard, Harris’ stepfather, told, “and it will never go away. Coach Oats…said they prayed at practice. They didn’t pray for Jamea. They prayed for their own players.”

Standridge, Miller’s attorney, said in his statement that Miller was unaware of any conflict at the scene of Harris’ murder and was unaware that Miles had left the gun in the back seat of Miller’s car. But Standridge also said, “Mr. Miles texted Brandon and asked him to bring his gun,” and Miller actually drove to Miles’ place.

Could Miller’s groin strain affect his performance against Maryland? It certainly was in the first round, when he went goalless for the only time in his career – 19.6 points below his average.

“I’ll always tell you I’m at 100 percent,” Miller said. “So right now I’m at 100 percent.”

Given the events of January 15th, does it feel inappropriate to focus on Miller’s health or Miller’s game or Miller’s draft prospects? It sure does. The best player on college basketball’s best team allegedly drove a gun to a friend and it was used in a murder. The victim here was Jamea Jonae Harris and nobody else. Alabama, Brandon Miller and the night that looms over this tournament

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