Alabama's Brandon Miller OK'd to play, scores career-high 41
Alabama's Brandon Miller OK'd to play, scores career-high 41
A day after Tuscaloosa police testified he brought a now-former teammate the handgun used to kill a woman in January, Alabama star freshman Brandon Miller scored a career-high 41 points — including a game-winning layup in the final second of overtime — as the No. 2 Crimson Tide outlasted South Carolina 78-76 in Columbia on Wednesday night.
About 3½ hours before the 9 p.m. ET tipoff, Alabama announced that Miller would play, calling him "an active member of our team."
"UA Athletics continues to cooperate fully with law enforcement in the on-going investigation of this tragic situation," the school said in a statement. "Based on all the information we have received, Brandon Miller is not considered a suspect in this case, only a cooperative witness."
Miller then went out and scored the most points by a freshman in a Division I game this season and the most by an Alabama freshman in program history. He had the game-tying layup with 4.1 seconds to play in regulation then the winner in overtime with 0.9 seconds left on the clock.
He did it despite hearing boos from the Colonial Life Arena crowd when he touched the ball. Members of the student section chanted "Lock him up" and "Guilty!" several times as Miller played.
"One of the most mentally tough kids I've ever coached," Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats said postgame. "Not surprised he came ready to play and played well tonight.
"It could've been a distraction. But Brandon showed up."
Neither Miller nor any other Tide players were made available to the media after the game.
On Tuesday, Tuscaloosa Detective Branden Culpepper testified that Miller brought now-former teammate Darius Miles' gun to him on the night of the shooting death of 23-year-old Jamea Jonae Harris, after Miles asked him to do so via text message. Miles, who has since been removed from the Crimson Tide men's basketball program, and Michael Lynn Davis face capital murder charges in the death of Harris, who was shot and killed near campus in the early morning hours of Jan. 15. Miles admitted to providing the gun used in the shooting, according to investigators, but said Davis fired the weapon.
Miller was not charged with a crime, and Tuscaloosa Chief Deputy District Attorney Paula Whitley told AL.com on Tuesday that "there's nothing we could charge [Miller] with."
Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne told ESPN in an interview on the "College GameDay" podcast earlier Wednesday that the school learned some "new facts" in the previous 48 hours, both from Tuesday's hearing and afterward. He said the decision to allow Miller to play was made in consultation with university president Dr. Stuart R. Bell, Oats, university legal counsel and others at the school.
"Collectively, we decided Brandon was able to play," Byrne said.
Byrne said some of the "new information" that emerged affected the school's decision to allow Miller to play.
He said Alabama didn't know of Miles' text message asking Miller to bring the gun to the scene until police testified to it in the court hearing Tuesday. Alabama officials also learned that Miller had already been on his way to pick up Miles when the text arrived. Byrne added that Miles had wanted to be picked up for "close to an hour" before Miller made his way over and was "already almost there" when the text arrived.
The text that Miles allegedly sent to Miller, according to the testimony, included a slang term for wanting his gun: "I need my joint."
"Our role in a criminal investigation is to support law enforcement, not to conduct our own investigation and not to interfere with their efforts," Byrne said. "Although we're not investigators, we do have a duty to evaluate whether anyone involved in our program has violated the rules, policies or standards of the university. We make that evaluation based on facts."
Byrne said that Miller "never left his vehicle and was not involved in the collection of the weapon."
"Darius had been asking Brandon to come pick him up for close to an hour," Byrne added. "Brandon was already on his way to pick Darius up when he received the text message for him that was reported yesterday."
Jim Standridge, one of the attorneys representing Miller, released a statement Wednesday reiterating some of those points in an attempt to "provide additional facts on Brandon's behalf in response to misstatements in reporting yesterday regarding Brandon."
According to Standridge, Miller was already on his way to pick up Miles when Miles texted him to bring him his gun on the night of the shooting. Standridge wrote that Miller never saw Miles' handgun and that it was "concealed under some clothing in the back seat" of Miller's car. He added that Miller never touched the gun or was involved in its exchange to Davis, the alleged shooter.
Police had testified Tuesday that Davis was dancing in front of Harris' Jeep, leading to an exchange between Davis and Harris' boyfriend, Cedric Johnson.
According to Standridge, Miller was unaware of the confrontation between the two parties, didn't get out of his car and had already parked it when Johnson's Jeep later pulled up behind him, thereby not intentionally blocking its exit.
Miller, whose windshield was hit by gunfire, left when the shooting started.
"All of the events described above are clearly captured on video," Standridge wrote. "There is no dispute about Brandon's activities during this evening."
Following the police testimony, Oats said the school had known about Miller's presence at the scene, adding that his player was in the "wrong spot at the wrong time." Byrne told ESPN that Oats had not been briefed on the new information that emerged in the hearing, which led on Tuesday night to Oats clarifying what he called his "unfortunate remarks" earlier in the day.
He opened his postgame news conference Wednesday night by again apologizing for what he initially said Tuesday.
"I am not here to make excuses, but I want to make it clear that I didn't have the details from the hearing that morning, since I was coming straight from practice," Oats said. "And I used a poor choice of words, making it appear like I was not taking this tragic situation seriously, which we have throughout the course of it. I sincerely apologize for that."
Miller, a 6-foot-9 small forward, is the highest-ranked NBA prospect playing in college this season. He is projected to go No. 5 overall in ESPN's latest 2023 NBA draft rankings. Miller is averaging 19.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game while shooting 43.1% from 3-point range for the Crimson Tide (24-4, 14-1 SEC).
ESPN's Pete Thamel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.