Alabama Crimson Tide helped turn Brandon Miller into public enemy No. 1 | Whitley
When a basketball player scores 41 points, including a game-winning shot in overtime, his school usually will blare the news.
Brandon Miller did that Wednesday night, yet all was quiet on the Alabama social media front.
The school tweeted video of Miller’s supporting cast making plays in the 78-76 win over South Carolina. But the star of the show was nowhere to be found.
It was a tacit admission that Alabama has turned a tragedy into a scandal that could devour the college basketball season.
The tragedy is the death of Jamea Harris, a 23-year-old mother who was shot on Jan. 15 in Tuscaloosa. The scandal now engulfs Miller, who delivered the gun that killed Harris.
There’s no debating that fact. What’s not so clear is Miller’s degree of culpability.
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That question has been lost in a national outrage. Outrage largely triggered by the buffoonish way Alabama has handled the entire situation.
To recap: Police arrested two men after the shooting. Michael Davis and Darius Miles, a reserve forward at Alabama, were charged with capital murder.
They got into an argument with Harris’ boyfriend, Cedric Johnson. Police allege Miles gave Davis his gun, and Davis shot into the Jeep where Harris and Johnson were sitting.
Miles was kicked off the team, which quickly resumed crushing opponents. These should be the best of times, with the hoops team proving there’s more to Bama than Nick Saban. The vibe held until a hearing last Tuesday.
Police testified that Miles texted Miller a request to bring Miles’ gun to what became the scene of the alleged crime. They said Miller’s car was parked in a way that blocked the Jeep from exiting.
Cue the tone-deaf Nate Oats
Until that testimony, the public didn’t know Miller was even out that night. Coach Nate Oats was asked about it Tuesday afternoon and delivered perhaps the most tone-deaf response in the history of tone-deaf responses.
“We knew about that,” he said of Miller’s involvement. “Can’t control everything anybody does outside of practice.
“Nobody knew that was going to happen. College kids are out, Brandon 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.”
Oats tried to walk it back later, but there was no putting the “wrong spot, wrong time” toothpaste back in the tube.
Harris’ family was rightly incensed and demanded Alabama kick Miller off the team. Fans and media far and wide agreed. I did, too, until more details seeped out the next day.
Miller’s side of the story: Miles had been texting to come pick him up an hour before trouble began. He was already on the way to pick up Miles before he got a text asking him to deliver the gun, which Miles had left in the back seat under some clothes the night before.
Miller did not intentionally block an exit and was already parked “when the Jeep pulled up behind him,” according to his lawyer.
Yeah, that’s what a lawyer would say. But he also said video evidence would back up those claims.
Those revelations should factor into the debate, but they’ve been largely stampeded in the rush to judgment. Though I don’t really blame people for jumping to the most incriminating conclusions.
What, Ray Lewis or O.J. Simpson was not available?
Alabama has delivered a master class in crisis mismanagement. Start with Oats, who called Ray Lewis for advice. The same Ray Lewis who was charged with murder after an altercation during Super Bowl festivities in 2000.
Talk about bad optics. O.J. Simpson was apparently too busy golfing to speak to Oats.
Alabama Athletic Director Greg Byrne said the university didn’t know pertinent details of the crime until Tuesday.
“Our role in a criminal investigation is to support law enforcement, not to conduct our own investigation and not to interfere with their efforts," he said.
You don’t want to interfere with law enforcement, but you darned sure can conduct your own investigation. Alabama officials knew from Night One that Miller was at the scene.
Did they think that little tidbit would never get out?
They should have gotten ahead of the story, and told everything they legally could as soon as possible. Now it looks as if they were covering up, and nobody’s much interested in mitigating circumstances.
“Brandon does not own a firearm and has never even handled a firearm,” his lawyer said. “Moreover, he had no knowledge of any intent to use the weapon.”
Feel free to roll your eyes about that. If Miller had any inkling there was big trouble afoot, he should be disciplined.
But there’s a reason he hasn’t been charged with anything. And it’s not because the Alabama judicial system loves Crimson Tide basketball more than the law.
“It doesn’t appear evidence exists that Miller knew that transferring the firearm was for an unlawful purpose,” former U.S. Attorney Jay Town told AL.com.
Don’t tell that to anyone outside Tuscaloosa. The narrative has been set:
If Miller can deliver a national title, Alabama doesn’t care how many murder weapons he delivers.
As he was pouring in points Wednesday night, South Carolina fans were yelling “Lock him up!” and “Guilty!”
Those chants will intensify as the second-ranked Crimson Tide advance in the postseason. They can sanitize their Twitter account and pretend nothing’s wrong, but nobody will be fooled.
The best of times has turned into the worst of times. And Alabama has nobody to blame but itself.
David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley