NASHVILLE — The rousing cheers for Brandon Miller began during the announcement of the starting lineup and continued with each 3-pointer he knocked down, each rebound he gobbled up and each assist he dished out in Alabama’s 72-49 rout on Friday of Mississippi State in a Southeastern Conference men’s basketball tournament quarterfinal.
The applause commenced just as prosecutors in Tuscaloosa, Ala., some 250 miles away, announced that a grand jury had returned a capital murder indictment against Miller’s former teammate, Darius Miles, and Miles’s friend Michael Davis, in a case in which Miller and another Alabama player, Jaden Bradley, had been interviewed as witnesses.
As coincidental as the timing may have been, it was a reminder that as Alabama chases its first national basketball championship, it will be under a cloud as a now former player sits in jail on murder charges, and two players who were at the scene have continued to compete — including Miller, who police said transported the gun that was used to kill 23-year-old Jamea Jonae Harris.
Alabama, which will play Missouri in a semifinal on Saturday, is trying to lock in a No. 1 seed in the N.C.A.A. tournament, which starts next week. The pairings for the 68-team tournament will be announced on Sunday night.
Miller is essential to Alabama’s hopes. A 6-foot-8 forward who grew up just outside Nashville, Miller is viewed as the top N.B.A. prospect among college players this year. On Friday, he showed why when he racked up 18 points (including 4 3-pointers), 9 rebounds and 5 assists.
Alabama officials, who kicked Miles out of school after his arrest, knew quickly after the Jan. 14 shooting outside a Tuscaloosa bar that Miller and another freshman, Bradley, had been at the scene. But the players’ presence was not publicly known until more than a month later, on Feb. 21, when Tuscaloosa Police Detective Branden Culpepper testified at a pretrial hearing that Miles had asked Miller to bring him a gun that allegedly belonged to Miles but had been in Miller’s car.
A lawyer for Davis told AL.com that the indictment was expected and that Davis was acting in self-defense.
Miller has continued to play, as has Bradley.
Questions about Miller’s involvement and Alabama’s decision not to discipline either him or Bradley have continually shrouded the Crimson Tide in the last month. The team’s coach, Nate Oats, was forced to apologize after he initially characterized Miller’s involvement as being in the “wrong spot at the wrong time.”
In Miller’s first game after the hearing, he scored 41 points, including the game-winning basket in overtime at South Carolina, whose fans chanted “lock him up.”
In his first home game after the hearing, Miller continued a pregame routine in which he emerged during introductions and stood with his arms spread while a freshman walk-on patted him down, making it appear as though he were a security officer searching for a weapon.
The news of Friday’s indictment only further heightened a tense, unusual news conference after Alabama’s victory, in which questions for Oats and Miller toggled back and forth between basketball and a murder case.
Question: Brandon, how happy were you for Charles Bediako, who had five blocked shots on his birthday, which the team celebrated on Friday morning?
Answer: “We’re happy for him. I feel like my vocals were the best out of the group with singing, but we’re not going to get into that.” He smiled.
Question: Brandon, given your involvement on some level in a fatal shooting, how do you reconcile not missing any playing time?
Answer: “Respectfully, I’m not going to be able to say.”
Question: I’m not asking you about the incident, I’m asking you about playing after it.
Answer: “Well, man, just really leaning on my teammates.”
And on it went after Miller and his teammate Jahvon Quinerly were excused from the interview, and Oats was asked to explain how Alabama cut down its turnovers, and then to describe the discussions that led to allowing Miller and Bradley to play. “Based on the information we had, Brandon didn’t break any school policy or team policy, so I was comfortable with the decision that was made,” he said.
As Oats answered basketball questions, he was expansive and almost ebullient, describing the selflessness of his players and the importance of receiving contributions from the entire roster for his team to be at its best. His opening statement lasted four minutes.
But as he answered questions about the murder case, Oats’s countenance turned somber. He pursed his lips, and his eyes darted around the room. He spoke succinctly, rarely stringing more than a sentence or two together.
The most discomforting question was among the last. In the two months since Harris was killed, Oats was asked, had he attempted to speak with anyone in her family?
Oats, in the aftermath of the shooting, solicited advice from Ray Lewis, the former N.F.L. star who was involved in a murder investigation and testified against two of his friends. But as of late last month, Oats had not reached out to the family, according to AL.com.
“Listen, this whole situation has been, obviously, as you know, hard to deal with, tragic, to have any involvement in a young woman losing her life,” Oats said on Friday. “What you ask is a private matter; I’m not going to discuss publicly with everybody. A lot of this is just hard to deal with, to be honest with you. But it’s a private matter.”
Whether or not the case has weighed on Alabama players, they seem to have not played as freely and easily of late as they had for much of the season. The Crimson Tide had three narrow victories, including two in overtime, and they lost at Texas A&M in the regular-season finale.
The team played far better on Friday, and Miller led the way.
He knocked down a long 3-pointer just before halftime, extending Alabama’s lead to 41-19, after which he clapped his hands and shouted at the Mississippi State bench. In the second half, he leaped over a defender to tip in an alley-oop pass from Quinerly.
And when the game was over, he did a courtside interview with ESPN — all, it seemed, without a care in the world.
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