As desperately as the University of Alabama would prefer to distance itself from the Jan. 15 murder of Jamea Jonae Harris, that will not be happening. Ever.
And the men's basketball team made matters worse for itself on Saturday.
In a cringeworthy microcosm of the PR and common sense failures Alabama has bungled in recent days, pregame customs prior its home game against Arkansas made way for a gesture so callous, it had to be watched multiple times to be believed. After the standing ovation for Brandon Miller had come and gone during pregame warmups, it was time for player introductions. And, as he's reportedly done most (if not all of) the season, Miller was patted down by one of his teammates.
What would be a cheeky, innocuous act for a player on a different team is instead, here, a tone-deaf bit of cosplay for any player on Alabama.
And of all players to do it: Brandon Miller? Yikes.
Miller, of course, is the Crimson Tide's star freshman, but much more consequentially than that: He's the person who, it was revealed this week, drove former teammate Darius Miles' gun to the scene of what quickly led to Harris' murder after Miles' friend, Michael Davis, allegedly grabbed the gun and shot up the car Harris, a mother to a 5-year-old boy, was sitting in. Miller and his teammate, Jaden Bradley, were on the scene but are not suspects and were not charged.
Even with Miller and Bradley being cleared of criminal activity, questions surrounding the circumstances and actions on that tragic night are still remain. It's sparked a firestorm around Alabama's program and has made the school a lightning rod for criticism.
With that as the depressing and horrifying backdrop to Alabama's season, now look at Miller's pregame routine.
Brandon Miller being introduced during the starting lineups pic.twitter.com/Fen0xT8V8L— Ryan Hennessy (@RyanWVTM13) February 25, 2023
Inappropriate. Tactless. Insensitive. Heartless. Idiotic. I could go on.
"He completely understands the situation is tragic, and he takes it seriously," Alabama coach Nate Oats said of Miller on Saturday.
Actions indicate otherwise. Judging by what's seen above, Miller has not, in fact, understood or fully grasped the scope of the tragedy of Harris' killing. This is how cynicism, skepticism and criticism embiggen the biggest story in American sports from the past five days. Due to its lack of transparency, and considering Oats and Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne admitted in recent days to learning new details about Miller's role in the incident, Alabama has not given the public indications it is taking Harris' death seriously enough.
Stuff like what Miller did before going out and scoring 24 points and leading the Tide to its 25th win of the season only make all of this more squeamish.
Oats is free to say what he believes Miller feels about Harris' murder and the circumstances that led to it, but as for what Miller himself knows or believes or could explain, we are all left waiting. The freshman hasn't been made available for an interview with the media since Tuesday's pretrial testimony that exposed his undeniable connection to the death of a 23-year-old mother. There's no telling when Alabama will become as comfortable with allowing Miller to talk publicly as it is with allowing him to play basketball.
Oats, who has not covered himself in glory this week by any stretch, took the layup afforded to him after — here's a doozy — Miller's pregame ritual was brought to his attention for the first time this season. As in: on Saturday.
"Think that's something that's been going on all year. I don't really know. I don't watch our introductions, I'm drawing up plays during that time," Oats said following Alabama's 86-83 win over Arkansas. "Regardless, it's not appropriate, it's been addressed and I can assure you it will not happen again the remainder of this year."
Best I can tell, it's the first time Miller's been publicly held accountable for his actions.
It's also a terrible reflection on Oats' leadership, in addition to everyone else at Alabama, that someone didn't step in earlier to prevent such an easily avoidable gaffe. Why did we even get to this point? Saturday's stupidity could have and should have so easily been avoided. Dozens of people are a part of or adjacent to Alabama's men's basketball program on a daily and weekly basis. The poorly conceived pantomime is perhaps an ode to MMA pre-fight protocol, but it's a downright abysmal look for anyone on a program who has a former player facing capital murder charges.
And of all players to continue to do this since Jan. 15, Brandon Miller is that guy?
On Jan. 16, the day before Alabama was to play at Vanderbilt, Oats had a six-minute press conference to address Harris' murder. He was asked midway through that presser by a reporter in the room, "Is this a situation that's just isolated to Darius, or are there any other players maybe involved?"
Oats' response: "As I mentioned earlier, all of us got together last night, it's an ongoing investigation, our entire remaining team is traveling to Nashville and will be available to play in the game tomorrow."
In that moment, Oats knew exactly how cagey he was being. He didn't technically answer the question, and Alabama was satisfied with continuing to play Miller and Bradley even after learning of their tangential involvement in a capital murder case. This hits to the heart of why many aren't quick to completely trust what Oats or Byrne are saying these days.
Had there not been a social media uproar in the two hours between the player intros and Oats' postgame press conference, there's no telling if this would have continued into Alabama's next game and then the SEC Tournament. After all, it had happened in over the past month-plus since Harris' murder.
Alabama's lack of attention to details is what made it vulnerable to this maelstrom to begin with. Saturday again proved just how careless the program is when it comes to paying attention to the small stuff that, turns out, isn't so small to a greater story that we still don't have the clearest picture on. The American sports public was witness to Alabama's clumsy, careless oversight. It's why the Crimson Tide are fated to be the villain of college basketball for however long its season lasts, be it the first or last weekend of the NCAA Tournament.