Alabama freshman Brandon Miller will play Wednesday night at South Carolina, the school announced about 3½ hours before tipoff, despite Tuscaloosa police testifying a day earlier that the star forward brought a now-former teammate the handgun used to kill a woman in January.
“UA Athletics continues to cooperate fully with law enforcement in the on-going investigation of this tragic situation,” Alabama 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. Today’s statement from Brandon’s lawyer adds additional context that the University has considered as part of its review of the facts. Based on all of the facts we have gathered, Brandon remains an active member of our team.”
Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne told ESPN that Miller walked through with the team in South Carolina ahead of Wednesday’s 9 p.m. ET game.
Tuscaloosa detective Branden Culpepper testified Tuesday that Miller brought 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 Tuesday that “there’s nothing we could charge [Miller] with.”
Byrne told ESPN in an interview on the “College GameDay” podcast that Alabama learned some “new facts” in the past 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, men’s basketball coach Nate 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 impacted the school’s decision to allow Miller to play.
He said that 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, also stated 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.
“Brandon never left his vehicle and was not involved in the collection of the weapon,” said Byrne, who added: “Darius had been asking Brandon to come pick him up for close to an hour. 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 earlier 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 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 and also didn’t get out of his car, and he 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 Tuesday.
Byrne added Wednesday: “[Oats] and I have talked about it. We’ve addressed it. He’s remorseful for that.” He added that until the comments on Tuesday he’d been pleased with “Nate’s empathy.”
Miller, a 6-foot-9 small forward, is the highest-ranked NBA prospect playing in college this season, projected to go No. 5 overall in ESPN’s latest 2023 NBA draft rankings. He’s averaging 18.7 points and 8.0 rebounds while shooting 42.9% from 3-point range for the No. 2 Tide (23-4, 13-1 SEC).