When introduced before the University of Alabama’s game against Arkansas in Coleman Coliseum last Saturday, Brandon Miller strutted onto the court, amid fanfare and smoke machines, and then pretended to be frisked for weapons by a team-mate. The rabid home crowd cheered the theatrical pat-down because he is the college’s best player, a projected future NBA star, and their great hope for winning this year’s national championship. He is also somebody who has been accused of supplying the gun used in the recent shooting death of a 23-year-old mother outside a bar near the campus.
“It’s not appropriate,” said Nate Oats, the Alabama coach, speaking after the match about the routine. “It’s been addressed, and I can assure you it definitely will not happen again.”
That would be the same Oats who has continued to pick Miller to start for his team even after his involvement in the January 15th killing of Jamea Harris became known. Never mind the credible police testimony that the 6′9″ freshman guard drove to The Strip, the party zone in Tuscaloosa, that night specifically in response to Darius Miles, one of his team-mates, asking him to deliver him his legally held handgun. The weapon was later used by Miles’ friend Michael Davis to shoot Harris in the face as she sat in a Jeep.
His lawyer may argue that Miller never touched the gun, which lay on the backseat of his car, and he also denies that his client used his vehicle to block the car containing Harris as it tried to drive away. If true this still appears to be a damning contribution to what subsequently happened, Oats, whose annual salary is $5m, has described it as merely his star player being in the “wrong spot at the wrong time”. One way of describing his role in an incident that ensured five-year-old Kane Harris will now grow up without a mom.
The university and its demented fanbase appear unmoved by this unfortunate fact because Miller is a generational talent and Alabama’s only shot at winning upcoming March Madness, the NCAA tournament that captivates the American public each year. Without him on the court, Oats’ team wouldn’t even be considered contenders for the title. So, needs must. And morals mustn’t.
His involvement in the events leading up to the death of an innocent woman scarcely matters because, unlike Miles, a bench player immediately cut from the squad and erased from the college website as he awaits trial for his part in the death, Miller can score 41 points in a single game. As he did one night last week even as opposing South Carolina fans were chanting “lock him up!” every time he touched the ball. Nobody is calling for him to be imprisoned but the clamour for the university to at least suspend him is growing. Although, there are a few who somehow believe there is nothing to see here.
“Brandon Miller has rights, and I believe that Alabama has a duty to protect those rights, or at least not compromise those rights,” said Jay Bilas, ESPN’s pre-eminent college analyst. “They know him better than we do. He has cooperated fully, according to his attorney, with authorities. And, to me, I think Alabama has gone through this process and handled it appropriately. Now, reasonable minds can differ with that. Maybe one school might handle this differently, but I have no quarrel with the way Alabama handled it.”
Reasonable minds might wonder did Bilas, a relentless apologist for the indentured servitude system that is the college game, somehow forget Michigan State University, another basketball powerhouse, had to cancel a game last month because a mass shooter killed three and wounded five more on its campus. Or did he not catch one of their recent fixtures against University of Michigan, their most hated rival, a clash that involved both teams participating in a pre-match ceremony calling for an end to gun violence.
“I fear for my first grandchild,” said Tom Izzo, Michigan State head coach. “I fear for a lot of people. When you talk about being in a preschool and elementary school, and you have to have gun seminars and escape seminars, what are we doing? It’s not right.”
Maybe Bilas also missed the case of the New Mexico State University basketballers. Their season was prematurely ended last month following a police investigation citing three student-athletes for false imprisonment, harassment, and criminal sexual contact with one of their team-mates, as part of some disturbed hazing ritual. A troubling story especially since the college authorities had not suspended their campaign after Mike Peake, a forward, shot and killed a student at the University of New Mexico back in November. Peake claims it was self-defence but the coach, Greg Heiar, is accused of telling his players to skip town even though police wanted them for questioning. Hazing is bad. Shooting a kid from a rival outfit and avoiding the cops? Not so much.
While all this was playing out, Barry Moore, a Republican Congressman from Alabama introduced a bill in Washington seeking to make the AR-15, a weapon that has wreaked peculiar havoc here, the official national gun of America. At last count, there have already been 85 mass shootings in this country in 2023, and Moore wants to give the Armalite Rifle the same exalted symbolic status as the national anthem and the stars and stripes. Plenty March madness to go round.