“If you guys saw some of what I’ve seen sent his way, I think you would understand why that’s the case.“
Nate Oats was asked about an armed security guard following Brandon Miller at Alabama’s NCAA Tournament practice in Birmingham. pic.twitter.com/U0VsOvgTTA
— Alabama Crimson Tide | AL.com (@aldotcomTide) March 15, 2023
Alabama, the No. 1 overall seed in the men’s tournament, is in nearby Birmingham for a first-round matchup Thursday against 16th-seeded Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The security guard, who wore red team apparel, was seen by the court at Legacy Arena with a holstered firearm, as well as a badge clipped to his waist.
The 6-foot-9 Miller, who was named both SEC freshman of the year and conference player of the year, has been a target of derision from opposing fans since last month’s revelation of his connection to a fatal shooting involving a former teammate. Darius Miles, who was dismissed from the program and Alabama’s campus in January, and another man were indicted by a grand jury last week on capital murder charges following the death of a Birmingham woman who was visiting Tuscaloosa.
Police have alleged that 23-year-old Jamea Harris was sitting in a car when she was fatally shot by a friend of Miles’s, Michael Davis. Miles is accused of handing the gun used to shoot Harris to Davis after, per police, retrieving it from a car he asked Miller to drive to the scene.
An attorney for Miller said in January that the player “never touched the gun, was not involved in its exchange to Mr. Davis in any way, and never knew that illegal activity involving the gun would occur.”
Attorneys for Miles and Davis have said their clients, who have been in a Tuscaloosa jail without bond since the shooting (via AL.com), maintain their innocence and were acting in self-defense.
Oats and Alabama athletic officials have been criticized by, among others, Harris’s parents for declining to punish Miller, who led the SEC in scoring and the Tide to its first top seed in the NCAA tournament. The coach initially told reporters that Miller was in the “wrong spot at the wrong time,” and that he couldn’t “control everything everybody does outside of practice,” before issuing a statement in which he described those comments as “unfortunate.”
University officials have emphasized that Miller and another teammate placed at the scene, freshman guard Jaden Bradley, are considered by authorities to be witnesses and not suspects in the case.
On Wednesday, the New York Times cited a person familiar with the case in reporting that a fourth Tide player, freshman Kai Spears, was also at the scene. Spears, a walk-on guard, was reportedly with Miller inside the car when gunfire erupted.
In a statement (via AL.com), Alabama athletics called the Times story “inaccurate,” adding that based on information available to the school, there were “no current student-athletes present at the scene” other than Miller and Bradley.
At a pretournament news conference Wednesday, Miller said that being able to “lean on my teammates” has helped him maintain focus on basketball amid an ongoing off-court story that has in many ways overshadowed the Tide’s remarkably successful season.
Asked about the security guard, Miller replied, “I feel like we always travel with security. That’s all I’m going to be able to say on that.”
Saying that the situation involving Harris’s death is “just heartbreaking on all accounts,” Oats told media members at the news conference that the security measures implemented on behalf of Miller were “appropriate.”
“Some of the messages [to Miller] from people that can sit behind fake email addresses — but who knows whether they’re real or not — that I’ve seen are something that nobody would ever want their son [to receive],” Oats said. “I treat my players like my own sons — I don’t have a son, I have three daughters, but I put myself in his parents’ shoes — and our administration has seen the stuff that I’ve seen.”
“It’s nothing that a college kid should have to go through,” added the 48-year-old coach, who is in his fourth season at Alabama. “If you were able to see what I’ve seen, then you would understand why that’s going on right now.”