The best player on the No. 1 overall seed team in the 2023 NCAA Tournament faces increasing and persistent scrutiny amid a firestorm of controversy off the court after court testimony from police in February identified a link connecting Alabama freshman star Brandon Miller to an alleged murder that took place in January near the UA campus in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Miller has not been charged in the killing of 23-year-old Jamea Jonae Harris, a mother of a 5-year-old boy, but police testimony in February alleges he brought the gun used in the fatal shooting to then-teammate Darius Miles at the request of Miles, who then handed the gun to another individual to commit the crime. Both Miles and his accomplice, Michael Lynn Davis, have been indicted on charges of capital murder.
Miller allegedly provided the gun used to kill Harris but the gun belonged to Miles, and Davis is believed to be the one who fired the shot that killed her, according to court documents. However, both Davis and Miles were in Miller's car just before the fatal shooting, authorities testified, with Miles handing the gun to Davis only after Miller drove to deliver the gun to Miles.
Miles was released from the Alabama team after he was charged with capital murder, but Miller, who has not only avoided legal culpability, has not missed a game for the Crimson Tide. His involvement was not publicly known until the explosive revelations in court in late February, which triggers questions about Alabama's handling of the case and how Miller has thus far seemingly side-stepped punishment.
Here is what we know so far:
What is Miller accused of doing?
Miles hitched a ride from Miller to the "Strip" area in Tuscaloosa to go to a nightclub on Jan. 15, the night Harris was fatally shot. Miles, according to Miller's attorney Jim Standridge, brought his gun and left it -- concealed -- in the back seat of Miller's car. Miller's attorney alleges his client never saw or handled the gun.
According to AL.com, police believe Miller left to go eat because the line at a Strip restaurant was long. Around midnight, Miles asked for Miller to pick him up. Roughly an hour later, Miller left to go pick up Miles. It was around this time Miles texted Miller and asked that he bring his gun to where he was, according to police testimony. Miller then arrived to Miles' and Davis' location with the gun allegedly in his possession. It's unclear if Miller drove to the scene at the request of Miles or if the timing was merely coincidental.
There, Miles, according to investigators, told Davis: "The heat is in the hat," and "There's one in the head," referring to the gun being present and loaded. It is unclear if Miller knew the gun was in his vehicle, and both Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne and Miller's attorney maintain that Miller's arrival at the scene came after the first text requesting a ride. Miller, according to both his attorney and Byrne, was already en route when Miles texted Miller again asking to bring him his gun.
Miller did not get out of the vehicle at the time of the altercation but his car's windshield was struck twice as a gun fight ensued.
Police allege that Miller's vehicle and teammate Jaden Bradley's vehicle, who was also on the scene, were blocking the Jeep that Harris was later found dead in. However, Miller's attorney denied that claim, saying in a statement that, "Brandon had already parked on Grace Street when the jeep pulled up behind him."
"The street was never blocked by Brandon's vehicle," his attorney said.
Why is Miller not charged with a crime?
Miller, according to his attorney, "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." Miller and his attorney also maintain that he was unaware the gun was in his vehicle, though Miles' text to Miller requesting he bring him his gun raises questions about the veracity of that claim. Thus far that has allowed him to avoid any legal culpability.
"There's nothing we could charge him with," Tuscaloosa chief deputy district attorney Paula Whitley told AL.com of Miller's legal exposure.
Court records indicate Davis has admitted to firing the gun that led to Harris' death and Miles has taken responsibility for supplying the weapon.
Alabama has said Miller and Bradley, both freshmen who were on the scene, are cooperating witnesses in the case and helping support the ongoing investigation by authorities.
How has Alabama responded?
Alabama coach Nate Oats admitted in February that he knew of Miller's involvement in the incident and that Miller was in the, "Wrong spot at the wrong time."
"Can't control everything everybody does outside of practice," Oats said shortly after the police testimony became public identifying Miller. "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."
Oats issued an apology shortly after his comments were scrutinized.
"I thought it was important for me to clarify the unfortunate remarks I made earlier," Oats said in a statement. "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."
Alabama issued a separate statement saying that Miller is not considered a suspect.
"UA Athletics continues to cooperate fully with law enforcement in the ongoing investigation of this tragic situation," the statement said. "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."
What's next for Alabama
Alabama was named the No. 1 overall seed by the tournament's selection committee on Selection Sunday and has advanced into the Sweet 16 where it will face No. 5 seed San Diego State on Friday. The Tide (31-5) won both the SEC regular season and SEC Tournament and have emerged as the betting favorite to win the national championship.
Aside from tightened personal security measures for Miller and increased scrutiny over his behavior, including pre-game introductions, nothing has changed for the Tide and their young talent.
"The new information we learned was that there had been some text messages exchanged with Brandon and Darius. That information was news to me," Byrne said on the ESPN College GameDay podcast in February of the revelation that Miller was linked to the case. "I had not been told that before. Then, we were able to receive some information since then about the text exchange that has not been out there publicly. For instance, Darius had been asking Brandon to come pick him up for close to an hour. He was his ride that evening. Brandon was already on his way to pick up Darius when he received a text message from him that was reported in the media yesterday. I didn't know that yesterday, I found that out [Wednesday]. He received text messages from Darius over the course of an hour to come pick him up. The text message released [on Tuesday] was when Brandon was going to pick him up, and was already almost there."
Byrne said extensive conversations were had about the situation surrounding Miller and his involvement in the incident and ultimately a decision was made that he would maintain his playing eligibility.
"It was ongoing discussion from the get-go when the incident happened," Byrne said. "A conversation between myself and Nate Oats. Conversation between myself and the president. We have legal counsel involved from the university, different offices within the university that are at least aware of it. Collectively, we decided that Brandon was able to play. If we gather new information down the road, then we'll deal with it at that time."
Oats has echoed that sentiment from his AD and added that with the information available, they felt it was appropriate that Miller not face any suspension and continue playing.
"We make decisions based on available facts, and that's what we did here," Oats said.
How is Miller's NBA Draft stock affected?
In the time since Miller's involvement has come to light, Miller's stock has only increased. Shortly after he was linked to the case, he scored a career-high 41 points in an overtime win over South Carolina. His size, scoring and length have propelled him to as high as No. 2 in the eyes of some evaluators projecting the upcoming class.
The former five-star recruit has the size (6-foot-9) and shooting ability (43.1% from 3-point range) to develop into a terrific two-way wing in the NBA, continuing on what he has done as a freshman where he leads the SEC in scoring and ranks top-five in the conference in rebounding and 3-point shooting percentage.
However, his athleticism — or rather his lack thereof in terms of explosiveness — raises at least some uncertainty about how he will hold up defensively. Creating his own looks at the NBA level may also become more complicated than at the college level if he can't separate in the same way or rely on explosiveness to blow past defenders.
Miller ranks No. 3 in the CBS Sports Top 50 NBA Draft prospect rankings but in this draft, beyond the clear No. 1 in Victor Wembanyama, the No. 2-10 spots are nearly interchangeable at this point in the process. For awhile, Scoot Henderson appeared to be the consensus No. 2, but he has struggled at times this season in his development while Miller has steadily improved in multiple facets of his game. There's no consensus in the draft community about who should be viewed as the best behind Wembanyama, which makes Miller's size and shooting so seductive in this class.
There are plenty of others who bring great appeal and could supplant Miller, though. Keyonte George has a game reminiscent of Bradley Beal as a gifted scorer and playmaker. Cason Wallace is a dynamic defensive presence and developing lead guard. Nick Smith has the offensive weaponry when healthy to be in the conversation.
It's hard to envision in this class that Miller would slip out of the lottery entirely — he has the frame, scoring, shooting and defensive upside to be one of the best in this class — but it's very easy to see him potentially slipping in the eyes of NBA teams depending upon how problematic front offices see his actions in the incident and whether they view it as a pattern of his behavior or a momentary lapse in judgment. Before his known connection, I would have said his range in the upcoming draft would be somewhere between No. 3 and No. 7, but now I'd say his range is much more broad, with the possibility still of going as high as No. 3 but also of falling to the late end of the lottery pending how this situation unfolds. (Or even off team's boards entirely.)