Pressure On and Off the Court for Bama’s Brandon Miller
This should be the highpoint in the young life of the University of Alabama’s superstar basketball player Brandon Miller.
He has racked up awards, received national praise and set records for the top ranked Crimson Tide. He will also be a high NBA first-round draft choice. But instead of reveling in the aura of the winningest season in Alabama Men’s Basketball history, he is hounded by one night’s lack of good judgement. It was a mistake that associated his name with the Capital Murder of a 23-year-old Birmingham mother in the wee hours of January 15th.
You know the story by now; the Crimson Tide had just recorded a 106-66 blowout win over LSU at Coleman Coliseum on January 14. Miller and teammates Jaden Bradley and Darius Miles along with Miles’ childhood friend Michael Davis - not a UA student - went to the strip around midnight to celebrate. They were in a long line at the Twelve25 bar when Miller decided to leave to get something to eat.
Also in that line were Jamea Harris, her boyfriend and another girlfriend. Surveillance video presented during court proceedings do not show any interaction between the two groups in line or inside.
Harris and her group later went to get some food across the street and the Jeep was pulled around the corner on narrow Grace Street. When Miles, Davis and Bradley exited the bar and walked around the corner they encountered the Jeep. That is where the interaction between to two parties occurred.
It was at this time that Miles texted Miller asking him to return to the strip that some guys were threatening him. He wanted to get his property he left in Miller’s backseat; including his gun.
Miles and Davis, childhood friends from Maryland, retrieved the handgun and police reports allege Davis then used it to fire shots into a Jeep containing Harris, with whom he had been interacting. Harris rebuffed him leading to words berween her boyfriend and Davis. The exchange of gunfire left Ms. Harris mortally wounded and Davis with non-life threatening wounds.
The Tuscaloosa Violent Crimes Unit and Tuscaloosa County District Attorney’s Office classify Miller and Jaden Bradley as witnesses to the shooting, not suspects. Investigators say Miller had no apparent foreknowledge of how Miles and Harris intended to use the weapon and never touched it.
Yet, national, and some local media, have been attempting to attach more responsibility for the shooting to Miller.
National TV networks and major newspapers have sent, not sportscasters and writers to Tuscaloosa, but investigative news teams seeking culpability.
“I’ve had more than one reporter come in here looking for people who were around that night,” a bartender who did not want to be identified told this reporter. “To me they are looking to make him (Miller) the bad guy,” he added.
Opinion writers have turned up the sensationalism, some even suggesting Miller be kicked off the team, the season shutdown and Head Coach Nate Oats fired. Others have alleged a coverup to protect Alabama’s season and Miller.
The Tennessee native and his teammates have heard the jeers of the crowd. “Killer Miller”, “Guilty” and “Lock him up” and worse have rained down on the freshman and his young teammates since a TPD investigator attached his name to the incident during a hearing.
All the publicity has led to a growing phenomenon in today’s social media dominated society; death threats and unfounded accusations from people who know little to nothing about the case. Several conflicting news narratives of what happened have emerged. It all has led to concern for Miller’s safety and UA to assigning an armed officer to protect him.
“Some of the messages from people that can sit behind fake email addresses, but who knows whether they're real or not," Oats said. “But if you'd seen what I've seen, you would understand what's going on right now.”
Miles and Harris have been indicted for the young woman’s murder. They are the only suspects despite an allegation Wednesday by The New York Times that Alabama walk-on Kai Spears was also at the scene. That allegation has brought denials from UA, Spears and his family. Spears, whose father Christian is Athletics Director at Marshal University, issued a statement on social media. "I have one thing to say — the report in the New York Times was 100% inaccurate and the writer had complete disregard for the truth," Spears wrote.
The freshman’s parents are now considering a lawsuit against The Times for gross inaccuracy in reporting. The Times stands by the story.
Part of what is frustrating media is that Miller won’t, or can’t, speak more specifically about the incident because he is a “cooperating” witness and will be called to testify in the coming trial.
In addition to the constant hounding and accusations about what happened in January, the 19 year old is now dealing with a hobbling groin injury. How it will impact his playing time and quality of play is uncertain.
When asked by media at an NCAA First Round press conference how he handles the emotional pressure, Miller replied, “I just lean on my teammates. They're like family for me away from home.”
There are several storylines to this tragic situation…
- First and most importantly an innocent young mother of a five-year-old boy is dead, leaving Kaine to grow up without his mother’s love plus a family has lost a loved one; all because two young men couldn’t control their temper.
- A young man who has worked his whole life to achieve his current success can’t fully enjoy it because his name will always be associated with her death. It will be highlighted in every game he plays. Reporters will ask about it instead of what happened in the game. He will probably always question why he trusted Darius Miles and allowed him to get his gun.
- The greatest basketball season in University of Alabama history, no matter how March Madness plays out, will always have an asterisk about the shooting attached to the season.
The accurate story about what happened will eventually be revealed in a court of law, until then all parties involved will be haunted by the relentless media coverage of the heartbreaking results of a lapse in good judgement.