Alabama, unfortunately, continues to stand firm despite the looming controversy

Brandon Miller made his first media appearance since being named in the shooting death of Jamie Jonah Harris. Miller has not been charged with any crime.

After weeks of shaky PR 101, Alabama men’s basketball looked to improve its grade on Wednesday. Let’s charitably give the Crimson Tide an incomplete on this one. Their quest to escape a crisis of their own making is not over.

Star player Brandon Miller appeared before the media for the first time since America’s perception of him — and the entire program — changed on Feb. 21 when a Tuscaloosa detective revealed in a preliminary investigation that the star had some involvement in an alleged killing in January in the city. Miller has not been charged with any crime.

In his first media appearance since the allegations surfaced, Miller took the podium for a press conference on campus before the team left for the Southeastern Conference tournament. His appearance had not been previously publicized by Alabama. However, close readers of Tuesday’s email announcing this media availability could have seen it coming.

Recent emails to the press conference had noted that no players would be available and that this time that line was missing. As we have learned in recent weeks in Alabama, what is not said is often as important as what is said.

So Miller spoke, saying little in response to largely servile and sometimes annoying questions. It was unlikely that the SEC Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year would have said anything of substance under any circumstances—that would have been legally dangerous, to say the least—but there was little that was directly relevant to why there is a Tide controversy .

That was Miller’s only comment on anything other than basketball: “I never lose sight of the fact that a family lost a loved one that night. This whole situation is really heartbreaking. But with respect, that’s all I’ll be able to say about it.”

The most relevant question to Miller: “Just last month, there was criticism that you haven’t been in any games. How would you answer that?’

The answer: “I only rely on my teammates. We just go places to get wins.”

Indeed, getting wins was all the focus despite February’s bombshell testimony.

The detective said Miller drove the alleged murder weapon, which belonged to then-teammate Darius Miles, at Miles’ request to the crime scene in the early morning hours of Jan. 15. Miles allegedly provided his gun to friend and triggerman Michael Davis.

Jamea Jonae Harris, a 23-year-old mother, was killed in the ensuing gunfight, and both Davis and Miles have been charged with murder. Miller cooperated with police during the investigation. So was teammate Jaden Bradley, who was also at the scene of the alleged crime.

Miller’s attorney, Jim Standridge, released a statement on February 22 in which he said his client was already on his way to pick up Miles outside a bar and was unaware that an altercation had occurred with Miles, Davis and people who were with Harris. So, Standridge said, Miller didn’t know Miles’ request for his gun would lead to a shootout.

Alabama declined to disclose the presence of two other players in the penalty besides Miles, who was suspended from school and the basketball team. He also declined to discipline either Miller or Bradley, despite — to say the least — egregious errors in judgment during a tragic situation. With the championships chasing, it was full steam ahead.

“I never lose sight of the fact that a family lost a loved one that night. This whole situation is really heartbreaking,” Miller said of Jamea Jonea Harris’ alleged murder.

Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY Sports

The school erred up front with a level of incompetence that called into question the leadership of everyone – none more so than coach Nate Oats. The day after Miles was charged with murder, Oats revealed that he had strangely sought the advice of former NFL star Ray Lewis, apparently on handling an inconvenient death. On the day of the deposition that linked Miller to the crime scene and the alleged murder weapon, Oates dismissed his star’s presence as “the wrong place at the wrong time.” And when Miller continued for weeks after the alleged assassination with a frankly offensive pregame “patdown” introduction routine, Oats was completely oblivious.

The voice that has been missing for the past two weeks has been Miller’s. Alabama realized the strategy of hiding him from the media had an expiration date—he would have to be available in the SEC tournament and the NCAA tournament that follows. Wednesday’s five-minute session was a soft launch in front of a small and largely pliable home court-dependent media, with some responses coming across as carefully scripted.

With Oats flanked by Miller and SEC Sixth Man of the Year Jahvon Quinerly, this was a milk series. Words never spoken at any point: murder, gun, police, investigation, Darius Miles. Instead, this was a rhetorical dance with allusions to “the situation” and “the last few weeks.”

The first question to Miller was about being a finalist for the Julius Erving Award, given to the nation’s top small forward. (Yes, really.) A later question directed at Quinerly was about “the team’s message to Brandon … to help him through this time.”

Quinerly’s response: “We stuck together as a team and made sure he was good.”

There was a question for both players about the effect of “national attention on this program” and “chants for you and the team” during road games. Miller: “We hear the chants. We just lean on each other to go to places like this to pull out tough wins.”

There were a couple of questions—one to Miller and one to Oates about the “mental fortitude” needed to be able to “focus on the game of basketball.”

Miller’s response: “Um, respectfully, I can’t really say more about that.”

Oats took this opportunity to praise his team’s culture, diving into deeper water without sailing on his hands: “You go through the season and you face adversity—whether it’s losses or adversity off the field—and you find out how much you really care about for each other, love each other. Your culture is tested a little bit and I think our guys responded well. They really lean into each other, they love each other. Myself, I rely heavily on my faith, I spend a little more time in the scriptures praying for wisdom.

“It was a very difficult situation. What Brandon said, was heartbreaking by all accounts. There are things that are much bigger in life than basketball, but at the same time my job is to lead these young men and they needed a lot of leadership this year. I don’t think God puts you through anything more than you can handle. That’s where my thoughts have been for the last few weeks.”

Oats on Miller: “He’s been taking this whole situation very seriously since Day 1. It’s a tough situation for all of us. It’s sad, to be honest with you. I never thought Brandon was frivolous about any of this, ever. As far as off the field, there aren’t necessarily huge changes, but I didn’t think they needed big changes. We are all going through a difficult situation together and we are trying to support each other.”

Thus ended the non-basketball portion of the Alabama media milkshake. Upon arrival in Nashville, the team can attempt a “we’ve been through it” attitude and answer questions if desired.

But the Crimson Tide should stay in the talking points for the next two weeks, at least. Maybe a whole month. Because the program’s involvement in — and response to — the alleged killing of Jamea Jonae Harris is a topic that won’t go away.

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