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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – For a couple of hours on Wednesday at the NCAA Tournament here at Legacy Arena, it looked like the news day might actually stay focused on basketball.
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl was entertaining and informative as usual in his press conference.
WELCOME TO THE IRON BOWL NCAA TOURNAMENT
Then Maryland first-year coach Kevin Willard dropped this. “We’ll win a national championship a lot sooner than people think.”
Wow, impressive confidence.
Then Alabama stepped to the podium. Freshman guard Brandon Miller and junior guard Mark Sears sat down.
Most of the questions centered on basketball, not on the Jan. 15 murder controversy in which Miller is involved. He drove the murder weapon to his teammate Darius Miles at the Alabama Strip after 1 a.m. on Jan. 15. Miles had left his gun in Miller’s car. Tuscaloosa Police say Miller knew he was bringing Miles’ gun to him at that ungodly hour. When Miller arrived, Miles quickly retrieved the gun and gave it to his friend, Michael Lynn Davis. Davis then allegedly shot Jamea Jonae Harris, 23, of Birmingham, and she died at approximately 1:45 a.m.
Miles and Davis remain in a jail in Tuscaloosa indicted on capital murder charges and awaiting trial. Miller was not charged as an accomplice, nor was he suspended for entering the murder scene. Miller has had little comment on the matter, though he has been asked several questions about it since the SEC Tournament last week.
But on this day, there was only one such question remotely about the murder through the first eight, and it was a soft, side entrance approach:
“With all the success you have had, how do you block out the outside noise and focus on the goal ahead?”
Miller said, “Well, us having the bond that we have, I feel like we all just lean on each other. We know our struggles on and off the court. We know our strengths on and off the court. Just knowing that plays a big part in our success on the court.”
Alabama Opens NCAA Tournament Thursday
And it appeared that was going to be it. Four more questions about basketball followed.
You see, many in the media would like this story to go away, too, or continue to dissipate like all stories – even the biggest ones – eventually do. Yes, many in the media just want to write about the basketball at the NCAA Tournament.
But as the press conference began, a few reporters had noticed a muscular man in a red golf shirt carrying a gun in the wide open in a hip holster and wearing a badge. I’ve been covering the NCAA Tournament since the late 1980s, and I’ve never seen this. Sure, there are always a lot of police around, but they’re assigned to the entire event of press conferences and practices as a precaution.
This was a security detail for Brandon Miller alone, and it had an obvious presence. And eventually, the moderator got to one of the several reporters who wanted to ask about the officer. That came on question nine.
“Brandon, I notice there’s a security guy over there. Is this something you are doing regularly now, traveling with security?”
Brandon Miller Asked About Armed Officer
Miller gave an accurate, but misleading answer. “I feel like we always travel with security,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say on that.”
Alabama does always travel with security. Most teams do, and officers tend to carry concealed weapons so as not to draw a lot of attention. That’s not what this security officer was doing.
So a reporter asked Alabama coach Nate Oats about it when he later stepped to the podium.
“If you guys saw some of what I’ve seen sent his way, I think you would understand why that’s the case,” Oats said. “The entire situation, as you know, is just heart breaking on all accounts. But some of the messages from people that can sit behind fake email addresses that I’ve seen are something that nobody would ever want their son to get. I put myself in his parent’s shoes, and our administration has seen the stuff that I’ve seen. And it’s appropriate. It’s nothing that a college kid should have to go through. If you were able to see what I’ve seen, you would understand why that’s going on right now.”
Great and candid points by Oats and more accurate than Miller’s comment. Perhaps the two should have spoken about potential questions at the press conference beforehand, though, so they could be on the same page. That is in Media Strategies 101.
Alabama Needs Media Consultant Help
But Alabama still is in remedial media classes. Remember when no one bothered to brief Oats before his Feb. 21 regular press conference that Miller had been named as driving the murder weapon to the scene earlier that day in a preliminary hearing?
Remember when no one remembered to maybe change Brandon Miller’s pregame introduction before the home game against Arkansas on Feb. 25? Miller had just been identified the previous Tuesday in court as the person who delivered the murder weapon to the scene. And he is jokingly frisked for a gun by teammate Adam Cottrell that Saturday as he had been previously during the season?
Oats apologized for that after an apology just days before about some previous insensitive comments.
“The players explained to me that it’s like when TSA checks you before you get on a plane,” Oats said. “‘And now, Brandon’s cleared for takeoff.’ We as the adults in the room should’ve been more sensitive to how it could’ve been interpreted. I dropped the ball.”
Alabama just can’t stop fumbling. Which brings us to this obvious show of force by the officer on Wednesday. Was it necessary? Perhaps it would have been smarter to conceal the gun.
If Alabama wanted to make an outwardly statement that it was going to protect Miller, that is understandable. But in front of a bunch of reporters at the press conference and later in a media session in the locker room? Reporters can be aggravating and flat wrong, but they’re usually not armed and dangerous.
Or a better question is this. Was Alabama trying to advertise that Miller was something of a victim to gain sentiment for him?
Regardless, here was one of Alabama’s greatest basketball teams practicing for the NCAA Tournament 50 miles from home. And reporters are scrambling around the court trying to get a picture of the officer with a badge and a gun.
Perhaps a short press release by Alabama before the tournament would have worked better:
“Because of threats against Brandon Miller on social media, Alabama will be taking extra precautions during the remainder of its play in the NCAA Tournament to protect Miller by adding security.”
That is called staying ahead of the story. Also in Media Strategies 101. Perhaps Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne needs to enroll or make his people do so.
But, Alabama is looking after its player. And that’s good.
Alabama Caught Hiding More Information About Jan. 15
A much more egregious Bama blunder surfaced later Wednesday.
The New York Times reported that Alabama basketball player Kai Spears was a passenger in Miller’s car on Jan. 15 when Miller went to The Strip to give Miles his gun. So that is four Alabama basketball players at the scene – Miles, Miller, Jaden Bradley and Spears. That’s almost a team meeting.
Alabama said the New York Times story is “inaccurate” in a release Wednesday night.
“Based on the information we have, there were no current student-athletes present at the scene other than Brandon Miller and Jaden Bradley, who are both fully cooperating witnesses,” Alabama’s statement said.
Alabama removed Miles from the team shortly after the arrest, so Alabama doesn’t include him as a “current student-athlete.”
But sorry, I have to go with the New York Times, which had been working on that story for some time. And “based on the information” I have about Alabama and this murder controversy, Alabama lacks credibility and transparency. It also continues to have no idea about how to stay ahead of a story.
Alabama kept Miller’s and Bradley’s names out of it for weeks, for example. Testimony by a Tuscaloosa detective on Feb. 21 is why their two names got out. And now Spears?
Why? No one has written about Bradley other than listing him as being there a few times. Miller’s role has been disseminated over and over because he transported the murder weapon to the scene, according to Tuscaloosa Police. No one would have written much about Bradley had Alabama released his name as a cooperating witness on Jan. 15, either. And no one would have written much about Spears either had Alabama been more forthright with his involvement early on.
All that Spears will likely end up being in the investigation is a witness like Bradley.
Why Is Alabama Being So Secretive?
So, why is Alabama being so secretive? What other news leaks from entities not Alabama are next? And Alabama wants us to believe Alabama when it says something is inaccurate?
As this investigation goes on and with this Spears revelation, it is starting to look more like everything Alabama and the attorneys in its camp have said and will say about Jan. 15 are suspect. I’m starting to question anything Alabama does with regard to this controversy.
That includes the showcasing of an officer’s flashy badge and gun to protect Miller from a bunch of sports writers and some fans who are checked for weapons at the door anyway.
As Alabama opens play in the NCAA Tournament Thursday (2:45 p.m., CBS) against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, the question is not if Alabama will win. The Crimson Tide is a solid pick to win it all.
The question is what are the people around the Alabama basketball program going to screw up next? And how many more times? There are probably more than two weeks of basketball left for the Tide.
And what else is Alabama trying to hide?
Maybe if Alabama came clean at last, everyone could enjoy the basketball.