Alabama continues to show it doesn’t mind trading PR hits for wins

The Tide keep winning and they will continue to face the heat for the lack of action and impending action with the murder case hanging over their season.

NASHVILLE—Those numbers will be the standard for Alabama, Brandon Miller and Nate Oates for as long as this Crimson Tide basketball season continues—which could be eight more games, until the national championship. There will be a warm hug from Bama fans who only care about winning, a cold line of questions at the postgame press conference and a few carefully chosen words in response.

That’s the path the Tide have chosen to take, and they’ll clearly continue to trade PR hits for wins in what could end up being the best season in school history. Beating Mississippi State 72–49 in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament was the beginning—something big, something awkward, something that will rub a lot of people the wrong way.

Playing ball and being dragged away by a supposed murder, that’s unprecedented multitasking.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey presented Alabama with the regular-season championship trophy before Friday’s game, to the delight of a larger-than-usual group of Crimson Tide fans at the event. During the pregame introductions – no patdowns – Miller was greeted with the loudest cheers, which largely drowned out boos coming from some quarters. After Miller had 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists for the Bulldogs, he got the hero treatment: a brief interview with ESPN. Shaking hands with maybe a dozen Alabama fans. and a high five from assistant athletic director Shane Lyons on the way to the locker room.

Miller, 24, has yet to miss a beat after police testified he brought the gun to the scene of the shootout.

John Amis/Associated Press

The press conference turned, predictably and justifiably, away from basketball and toward Alabama’s actions (or lack thereof) after Crimson Tide player Darius Miles was charged with murder and expelled from the school on Jan. 15. It’s worth noting that broke the story during the game saying that Miles and his friend, Michael Davis, had been indicted by a grand jury for manslaughter — a sign of how intertwined a criminal investigation and a basketball season have become.

Since Feb. 21, when a detective testified in a preliminary hearing that Miller carried Miles’ gun to the scene of a fatal shooting in downtown Tuscaloosa that claimed the life of 23-year-old mother Jamea Jonae Harris, his only public comments have been in a five-minute appearance at a campus news conference Wednesday. This tame event was a restful run for Alabama to take the no-answers straight ahead of Nashville, where there is much more media access.

Miller has not been charged with a crime and is not a suspect. But he had the alleged fatal weapon in his car when he drove to meet Miles and Davis around 1:45 a.m. off The Strip in Tuscaloosa. Miles texted Miller that he wanted his gun, though it’s unclear if or when Miller saw the text. Miller’s car was hit by gunfire, police said. Teammate and freshman Jaden Bradley was also present during the shooting.

Those figures were not disclosed by Alabama, and no player has missed a minute since. Which prompted my question to Miller: “Given your involvement, at some level, in a fatal shot, how do you reconcile not wasting any time after that?”

The answer: “With respect, I will not be able to say on that.”

I clarified that I was not asking about the incident itself, but about the aftermath. Miller’s response: “I just really rely on my teammates, really.”

Those answers didn’t actually match the questions, but they were similar to the answers Miller offered on Wednesday. The rest of that press conference with Miller and teammate Jahvon Quinerly gave little more to the tragic subject looming over the Tide.

Per SEC policy, Alabama’s locker room was open after the game. I asked Bradley – who we haven’t heard from since his name was linked to the shooting – about his role. He declined to comment on three questions.

For Oats, my question was about the discussions that took place to continue playing Miller and Bradley, and not reveal their presence on set. His response: “It was a difficult situation. We understand that we’re dealing with a criminal matter, so getting the facts from law enforcement as they do their investigation—as we got the facts from them, that was a decision that was made with the facts that we had. With, obviously, my boss, Greg Byrne, and his boss, Dr. [Stuart] Bell, and the board, were all comfortable with the information we had that Brandon did not violate any school or team policy. So we were comfortable with the decision that was made.”

Not violating a written policy and making a serious error in judgment are two different things, of course. But Alabama decided in January it was all-in to land the SEC Player of the Year, and doubled down after Feb. 21. Well, here we are.

To the school’s and the SEC’s credit, neither entity manipulated the media access protocol to avoid questions about hide-and-seek players. Miller and Oats were available on the podium. Bradley was available in the locker room. They didn’t say much, but if they had, it would have been shocking and potentially dangerous from a legal perspective.

Oats, who has not responded to this serious occasion rhetorically, almost managed to get through his remarks without saying something eye-rolling. But there was one line, uttered while praising a player who put in extra work to improve his game, that showed the lack of perspective about what happened still exists.

“All of our kids are very characterful kids,” Oats said.

Except, maybe, for the guy sitting in jail facing murder charges.

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