Birmingham, Ala. – If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t know.
In case you didn’t already know, at least two Alabama players were present at the scene of the Tuscaloosa murder just 60 days before … have been charged with capital murder … in case you didn’t know it was a program And the circumstances surrounding Jamia Harris’ death had an administration in lockdown mode against all questioning … The Tide’s 96-75 first-round win over 16th-seeded Texas A&M in Corpus Christi was a regular tournament-opening blowout Nothing more is visible.
There were no offensive “Killing our way through the SEC” T-shirts, no audible “Shut him down!” encourage. No protesters gathered on the streets around the arena. This year’s Alabama team entered the 2023 NCAA Tournament under a cloud the likes of which has never been seen in college basketball, but you wouldn’t know it on a perfectly regular Thursday afternoon in Birmingham.
The only notable thing about Brandon Miller, the Alabama player who gave January a weapon to become an offense spotter, was that Miller — who averaged 19.6 points per game this season — didn’t score a single point all afternoon. He passed, he blocked, he called his teammates up the court during a time when TA and MCC scored the lowest, but he was a support player for most of the afternoon, away from the limelight he had been throughout the year. ,
On the morning of January 15, former Alabama player Darius Miles became involved in a brawl in line at The Strip, a bar and restaurant just outside Alabama’s campus. According to police reports, Miles sent a message to Miller to bring Miles’ gun to The Strip. Miller later arrived with a gun in his back seat. His attorney says Miller never touched a gun. Shortly after, a gunfight broke out and Jamia Harris, 23, was shot and died at the scene.
The presence of Miller and teammate Jaden Bradley was not known until mid-February, when a detective involved in the investigation into Harris’ death testified that they were at the scene. In a devastating news conference shortly after Miller’s involvement became known, Alabama head coach Nate Oates downplayed the seriousness of the incident, calling it a case of “the wrong place at the wrong time”.
Tuscaloosa prosecutors indicated that there was not enough evidence to charge Miller with a crime. He remained an active member of the team, putting up points for Alabama’s stretch run, winning SEC Player of the Year, and pacing the Tide to its first overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The entire Alabama basketball industrial complex has sought to focus the attention on the team’s stellar performance on the court… nothing else. Only one of the nine questions asked of Oates, and only two of the 14 asked of Miller, at Wednesday’s pre-tournament news conference touched on the events of Jan. 15.
However, there were signs around the edges that this story was not going away. For one, a move suggested by Oates during his tournament news conference with Miller, a security guard, was carried out out of an abundance of caution.
“If you guys saw some of what I’ve seen sent my way, I think you’ll understand why that is,” he said. “It’s nothing that a college kid should have to go through.”
Miller kept his answers short and borderline non-responsive. “I think we always travel with security,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say on that.”
Security was present everywhere in Birmingham, as it always is at high-profile NCAA events. Outside the Legacy Arena on Thursday, an array of law enforcement agencies, from Birmingham police to SWAT teams to K-9 units, surrounded the building. Miller and his Alabama teammates from the Jefferson County Bomb Squad lined up outside the court as a warm-up before the game. (Tournament officials did not respond to a Yahoo Sports inquiry about the extent of security surrounding the tournament.)
As Alabama drove the layoff lines, CBS’s studio crew ran through a timeline of events in Tuscaloosa, from the night of the shooting to the indictments of Miles and Michael Davis, who allegedly fired the shot that killed Harris. A brief roundtable followed, in which Clark Kellogg, Charles Barkley, and the rest of the panel indicated that since Miller was not currently a person of interest in the case, the time had passed to suspend him.
Meanwhile, outside the court, the story continues. Wednesday night, The New York Times reported that a fourth player — rookie Kai Spears, who hasn’t played a game this season — was also at the crime scene. This marked the first time Spears’ name was mentioned in connection with Harris’s murder.
In An Instagram comment posted hours before the tipSpears argued that the Times report was “100% false” and that “the author had a complete disregard for the truth.” While the game was on, Alabama Athletic director Greg Byrne issued a statement Which forcefully denied the Times report.
Calling the Times article “untrue”, Byrne said in the release that “some inaccurate narratives have been reported about the involvement of Alabama student-athletes that demonstrate an unfortunate disregard for the facts.”
After the game, Oates’ only comments about Miller focused on his lack of production. “He’s got a groin injury that he’s been treating since Sunday in the SEC tournament,” Oates said. “We were trying to get him to play limited minutes. We were able to keep him under 20.
Back in the Alabama locker room, Miller sat in a corner for one of his first extended, unmoderated interview sessions since February, relaxing and joking about the brackets busted by Furman. She quickly dismissed almost all questions relating to the night and its effect on the weather with a few words or a shake of her head, but allowed that she had been receiving hate mail and threats “through all platforms”, and Those informed the university.
As to how he’s handled the chaos, Miller reiterated an often-used line: “Lean on my teammates.” Those same teammates flanked Miller while keeping a close eye on the two dozen media members crowding Alabama’s small locker room.
Running ahead of time may not be the most glamorous of basketball strategies, but it is a highly effective public relations one. The longer Alabama stays in the tournament, the more the Jamia Harris story misses, from major topic of discussion to pregame roundtable fodder to brief in-game mention…probably no mention at all — at least, of Alabama basketball. That’s what it wants.
As Alabama fans left the field, they crossed paths with Auburn fans for the Tigers’ evening post-season games. Blood rivals mixed, orange and blue mixed with crimson and white, houndstooth with tiger stripes. Like it was a normal season.