The first full round of the NCAA Tournament tips off on Thursday, including the first game for overall top seed Alabama and star forward Brandon Miller.
Miller, a freshman, is an All-America selection by the Associated Press and Sporting News this season and a projected lottery pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. The 20-year-old helped lead the Crimson Tide to a 29-5 record and the SEC Championship this season, and the team is favored to cut down the nets on April 3 at the March Madness championship in Houston.
But Miller’s involvement in the investigation of fatal shooting in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in January has overshadowed his on-court success. Questions about Miller’s role—and whether he should even be playing—have lingered into college basketball’s annual showcase event.
Who Is Brandon Miller?
Born on November 22, 2002, Miller is from Antioch, Tennessee. He grew up an Alabama sports fan because his father, Darrell Miller, played football at the university.
Miller played basketball at Cane Ridge High School, where he became the Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year in 2021 and 2022 and a McDonald’s All-American selection. He averaged more than 24 points per game his senior year and led his team to the state championship game.
ESPN ranked Miller as the ninth recruit in its top 100 of the 2022 class, and recruiting news site 247sports.com had him at No. 14. The skilled forward chose to play collegiately at Alabama over other NCAA heavyweights such as Kansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee, and he has quickly become one of the NCAA’s most exciting players. He is averaging 19.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game this season and has the Tide in their best position ever to win the program’s first NCAA championship.
At 6-foot-9 and 200 pounds, Miller’s size, speed, and shooting ability give him one of the most complete skill sets of any player in the big dance—a major reason why he is expected to leave the school after this season for the NBA.
What Happened during the Fatal January Shooting?
Early on the morning of January 15, 23-year-old Jamea Harris was shot and killed while sitting in her car near Alabama’s campus in Tuscaloosa.
According to AL.com, Harris’ mother, DeCarla Heard, said in court records her daughter and her boyfriend, Cedric Johnson, were visiting a cousin attending the university. Alabama basketball player Darius Miles and his friend Michael Lynn Davis approached the car, leading to “a minor argument that occurred between the victims and suspects after they encountered each other” and the shooting, police told AL.com. Johnson also fired a gun during the confrontation, with Davis suffering a non-life-threatening injury to his shoulder.
Police arrested Miles, 21, and Davis, 20, after speaking to witnesses and reviewing surveillance video, according to The Sporting News. According to a court document, Miles admitted to providing the handgun before the shooting, but Davis is believed to have pulled the trigger.
Police charged Miles and Davis with capital murder shortly after their arrest, and the Alabama program immediately dismissed Miles. A grand jury indicted both on capital murder charges on March 10. They remain jailed without bond.
What Is Brandon Miller’s Connection?
During a preliminary hearing for Miles and Davis on February 21, Tuscaloosa detective Branden Culpepper testified that Miller delivered the gun to his teammate Miles after receiving a text message asking him to do so. Culpepper said that Miles told Davis where his gun was in Miller’s car, according to ESPN.
That same day, Alabama Head Coach Nate Oats said in a news conference that the school was aware of Miller’s potential link, but that “Brandon hasn’t been in any type of trouble, nor is he in any type of trouble in this case. Wrong spot at the wrong time.”
According to WBRC, a local TV news station in Birmingham, Alabama, Miller’s attorneys released a statement the following day saying he “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.”
Tuscaloosa Chief Deputy District Attorney Paula Whitley told AL.com following Culpepper’s testimony there was nothing Miller could be charged with according to the law. Miller is not a suspect in the case, but a “cooperative witness” according to the university’s athletic department.
On March 9, Miller spoke publicly for the first time after the incident. “I never lose sight of the fact that a family has lost one of their loved ones that night,” Miller told reporters, according to CNN. “This whole situation is just really heartbreaking, but respectfully, that’s all I’m going to be able to say on that.”
What Are Other People Saying?
Miller has remained with the Alabama team and been the subject of jeers and boos from opposing fans. During a game against South Carolina, Gamecock fans chanted “lock him up.”
Miller also drew attention prior to a game against Arkansas on February 25, when a teammate patted him down as part of his pre-game ritual. Head Coach Oats issued an apology, saying he and the team were insensitive to how the act could be interpreted.
Reporters and analysts that cover college basketball have been divided on whether Miller should continue playing amid the investigation. Some, like ESPN’s Jay Bilas, have defended Oats and Alabama for how they handled the situation.
“Brandon Miller has rights,” Bilas said on a February 24 episode of Pardon The Interruption. “The authorities have told Alabama that he is a witness, not a suspect. There is no indication that he has violated any law, and they know him better than we do.”
Conversely, NBA Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Charles Barkley told AL.com on March 13 that Miller “should have been given a time out to learn decisions have consequences.”
Regardless, the case is still lingering over the team. During the 2023 SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament, two Alabama fans wore shirts to the team’s semifinal against Missouri with the phrase “Killin’ our way through the SEC in ’23.” A league spokesperson announced the shirts would not be allowed for the championship game the following day.
Tyler Piccotti joined the Biography.com staff in 2023, and before that had worked almost eight years as a newspaper reporter and copy editor. He is a graduate of Syracuse University, an avid sports fan, a frequent moviegoer, and trivia buff.