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A PLAYER PROVIDED A MURDER WEAPON — AND HIS COACH SHRUGS IT OFF?
Even if Brandon Miller was involved peripherally in the killing of a 23-year-old woman, the idea he transported the gun should mortify Alabama’s Nate Oats, another entitled college basketball coach
Before Jim Nantz launches his annual gush-and-goo show in March, let’s change the music. “One Shining Moment” should be scrapped for the theme from “Law & Order.” Obedience, as you know, doesn’t exist in college basketball.
Coaches can run afoul of the FBI, have infractions forgiven by an ungodly whitewashing process called IARP, self-impose a four-game suspension and aim for a repeat national championship, as we say hello to guilty-as-charged Bill Self at Kansas. They make one phone call and ask a collective to buy a point guard for his “name, image and likeness,” with NIL becoming a widespread euphemism for a booster payoff. They raid the transfer portal for a kid who hasn’t attended a class and wants to leave because his girlfriend doesn’t love him anymore.
But entitlement and delusion clearly have gone awry when Nate Oats, who coaches second-ranked Alabama, shrugs off that his best player is at least peripherally connected to a murder in Tuscaloosa. So what if freshman forward Brandon Miller is accused of delivering the handgun used in the fatal shooting of a 23-year-old woman? Big whoop if a detective testified that Miller transported the gun on demand after a text message from his former Crimson Tide teammate, Darius Miles, one of two men charged with the killing of Jamea Jonae Harris last month. To hell with a gun-control crisis that continues to threaten daily life in America. Oats chose to be despicably oblivious to it all.
There are games to win, millions to make and a No. 1 seed to claim in the NCAA tournament at a school where no one trumps Nick Saban. Until Miller is charged with a crime — and the city’s chief deputy district attorney already has said “there’s nothing we could charge him with,” apparently asleep when her law professor discussed accomplices to murder — Oats will treat this tragedy like a nagging groin injury. After all, he needs Miller and his NBA-lottery skills to compete for a national title. Let Miles take the heat as he awaits his fate in a jail cell, charged with capital murder along with Michael Lynn Davis, who is alleged to have pulled the trigger and isn’t connected to the program. Never mind that the killing wouldn’t have happened without Miller’s gun. Never mind that the gun exchange with Miles allegedly took place inside Miller’s car. Never mind that another Alabama player, freshman guard Jaden Bradley, also was at the scene in an entertainment district near campus. And never mind that Oats recruited Miles and gave him a uniform before removing him from the team.
“We knew about that. Can’t control everything everybody does outside of practice,” Oats said Tuesday when asked about Miller and the gun. “Nobody knew that was going to happen. College kids are out. Brandon hasn’t been in any type of trouble, nor is he in any type of trouble in this case. Just in the wrong spot at the wrong time.”
Wait, he knew? And it isn’t Oats’ responsibility if a murder doesn’t happen in a practice gym? There’s no trouble here? And he doesn’t care Miller possessed a gun in the first place? And he was merely in the “wrong spot at the wrong time” when he answered a text message and provided a murder weapon? Nah, there’s nothing wrong here. Bring on South Carolina. Board that charter to Columbia.
Realizing people across America were outraged by his seeming indifference, Oats released a statement through the university Tuesday night “to clarify the unfortunate remarks I made earlier.” He wrote: “This entire time I've tried to be thoughtful in my words relative to this tragic incident, and my statements came across poorly. We were informed by law enforcement of other student-athletes being in the vicinity, and law enforcement has repeatedly told us that no other student-athletes were suspects — they were witnesses only. Our understanding is that they have all been fully truthful and cooperative. In no way did I intend to downplay the seriousness of this situation or the tragedy of that night. My prayers continue to go out to Jamea Harris's family.”
The first version of Nate Oats probably was closer to reality than the Mea Culpa Nate Oats. Such is the myopia of the coaching profession, where a man can become so obsessed with winning that he loses touch with life. Ranked seven spots below Alabama in the latest Associated Press poll is Baylor, which two seasons ago won a national title that was hailed as a renaissance for a program once rocked by … the murder of Patrick Dennehy, who was shot to death by teammate Carlton Dotson in 2003. The difference being, the blood is fresh in Tuscaloosa. And Miller is rated by scouts as the third-best prospect in this summer’s NBA draft, right behind potential generational talents Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson.
It will be difficult even for Nantz, who could rhapsodize about an earthquake, to gloss over the murder if Alabama advances far in the tournament. As it is, the biggest emerging story this season is the return of Kansas to the national forefront. Not that any lives have been lost in Lawrence, but Self is right back in the title picture after his central involvement in the sport’s sneaker scandals that drew the attention of federal investigators. All season, the coach has been showered with cheers from “Rock Chalk, Jayhawk” supporters who don’t care how much his program cheated in past seasons. Kansas has skated like most other dirty college shops thanks to the NCAA’s version of an escape hatch: the Independent Accountability Review Process. O.J. Simpson would have loved IARP as much as he loved the Los Angeles jury in his murder case. No matter how deep the corruption, programs don’t suffer. Coaches who should sit in the sin bin for years are allowed to work and lead their teams.
So, in an anything-goes season when Duke struggles in the post-Krzyzewski era while Northwestern awaits a tournament bid that North Carolina might not get, brace for a Kansas-Alabama matchup in the national championship game. Would that not be fitting? The possibility of more wrongdoing only increases as the NCAA considers expanding the tournament field to as many as — arrggh! — 90 teams. Expansion, of course, would appease TV partners. CBS and TBS will pay more than $1 billion annually for broadcast rights from 2025 through 2032. Additional games mean more ads and more revenues for the networks.
Which is why Nate Oats can say what he says and Bill Self is positioned to become just the fourth coach to win back-to-back championships in the last 50 years. And why Sean Miller, a crook at Arizona, can resurface at Xavier and return to the tournament. In the end, “One Shining Moment” always plays. Excuse me while I cue up the more appropriate song.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.