Musselman’s Track Record with Discipline Makes Alabama Mess Look Even Worse

Brandon Miller, Eric Musselman, Alabama basketball, Arkansas basketball
photo credit: Alabama Athletics / Arkansas Athletics

Saying that “Lady Justice is blind” is supposed to be a compliment to the American system of jurisprudence, but not in the case of Brandon Miller.  This case needs a seeing eye dog.

If you’ve been out of the country this week, in a nutshell, Alabama basketball superstar Brandon Miller reportedly delivered a loaded gun to a now former teammate, at the teammate’s request, who then gave it to another person who used it to commit a murder. All of this happened in the wee hours of the morning. Miller has been charged with nothing. 

Because Arkansas lost to Alabama on Saturday, many Tide fans reading this will write it off as sour grapes. It’s not. Even though he shouldn’t have been playing, the Hogs didn’t lose to Miller on Saturday. They lost because of eight missed free throws and a five-minute scoreless drought in the second half of a game that ended up as a three-point loss.

Unacceptable Introduction of Brandon Miller

To provide a little more context, as Brandon Miller was introduced on Saturday, he was met with an overwhelming ovation from the home crowd. When he came on to the floor, a teammate pretended to frisk him for a gun. Alabama basketball coach Nate Oats claimed he was “unaware” of this pre-game ritual, even though it’s been going on all season, and said that it won’t happen again.  

Without question, for many outside the Crimson Tide footprint, that explanation will push the bounds of forgiveness beyond its limits.

Within about a 30-second time frame, we saw two things occur that are unacceptable. First, the Alabama basketball faithful rallied around Miller as though he, not Jamea Jonae Harris, were the victim. And secondly, whether intentionally or not, members of the team mocked a situation that resulted in a murder, which subsequently resulted in a motherless child.  

To be 100% clear, this is a very serious matter, despite what the actions of Alabama’s players might otherwise indicate. To treat it as something else reaches the deepest depths of the low-class. It’s fine for Crimson Tide fans to be proud of their team for what they’ve accomplished this year, but they should be ashamed of the non-existent leadership shown by their coach and athletic department on this particular issue.

It should come as no surprise to the Alabama faithful if they find that almost everyone outside the Alabama footprint thinks less of them now than they did before all of this became public.

Brandon Miller’s Role

Plenty is still unknown, but what we do know is that Brandon MIller was asked to bring a loaded gun to a problematic scene. He complied and a woman is dead because of it. These undisputed facts alone should be enough for Miller to face consequences of some kind.

Miller has been characterized as a “cooperative witness,” which may provide Alabama fans with the justification, in their minds only, to defend him. Still, it is not impressive when “cooperation” by a witness to any crime – anywhere – is “expected.” In fact, failure to cooperate in court can result in “contempt of court,” or “perjury.” Generally, we applaud people when they do things over and above what’s necessary, not what is expected.

To further characterize this as a “wrong place, wrong time” situation, as Oats initially did, clearly portrays a coach trying to sweep something bad under the rug. He knows this, or he wouldn’t have apologized for the callousness of the statement.

And certainly, any congratulations to Miller for “cooperating” falls on deaf ears for Harris’ family. They are, and should be, angry that not only has Miller not been charged with a crime, but that he’s been allowed to continue playing.

I’m not here to argue the failings of the Alabama legal system, because I assume there are nuances in that state’s code that may legitimately support the absence of charges in this case. Plus, Miller’s attorney has argued that Miller wasn’t aware of the gun being in his car. However, not all lawyers necessarily agree with the Alabama prosecutor who determined Miller could not be charged under Alabama law.

What I do know is this:

If a buddy of mine called and told me he was invited to go duck hunting and needed to borrow one of my shotguns, I would reasonably assume he wants to use it to kill ducks. I would let him borrow it because it’s not against the law to shoot ducks in Arkansas. If he’s successful, by providing the shotgun, I would’ve played a role in that success.

If you agree with this, then surely you will find it exceedingly difficult to believe that Brandon Miller did not know the potential outcome of agreeing to deliver a loaded gun to an angered friend in the wee hours of the morning during a night of partying.

Lack of Punishment from Alabama Basketball

Alabama law notwithstanding, common sense and integrity should have come into play somewhere in the aftermath of the incident. It hasn’t.

As in all facets of life, several layers of authority exist in college sports. Discipline is routinely dispensed to players for transgressions as small as arriving late for a team meeting, missing class or any other number of misdeeds that may be nowhere near illegal but are nonetheless punishable.

Nate Oats and Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne have the authority to do something but have chosen to do nothing.

“It’s just unimaginable, and it’s like [Oats’] life is just going on,” the victim’s mother, DeCarla Cotton, told USA Today. “He took a brief pause and it didn’t stop. It’s like, OK, slap on the wrist and go play ball.”

“They’re worried about his career, but what about this this 5-year-old boy [Harris’ son]? He’s the true victim in all this,” Cotton continued. “He won’t have a mother anymore to influence his growing up and who he’s going to be.”

Arkansas, like pretty much every other SEC athletic department, has had its fair share of players involved in incidents that break team rules or the law. Every program does. 

As recently as December 2021, forward Kamani Johnson was charged with disorderly conduct for an altercation with Fayetteville police. Unlike Brandon Miller’s actions, however, no one died or even went to the hospital as a result of his actions. Yet, Johnson was still suspended from the team for a time.

That is a direct result of Eric Musselman’s disciplinary style, which doesn’t dance around with consequences for bigger issues like this or for something as simple as missing class. Musslman “is tough minded,” long-time Arkansas sportswriter Clay Henry said on “Hit that Line.”

“He defers to what’s right as far as discipline, and it might hurt the team,” Henry said.

Kamani Johnson must have learned his lesson, because in December 2022, every member of the team showed up and proudly watched him walk across the stage to receive his diploma.

No one is claiming Miller pulled the trigger. However, his role made it possible for someone else to do so and the end result was more consequential by leaps and bounds than Johnson’s actions. Yet, Miller hasn’t skipped a beat.

What is the lesson being taught here?

It appears the takeaway is that if you’re talented enough, you can do what you want without consequence. The lesson being taught is that nothing, including the life of a young mother, is more important than winning.

We live in a country that gives second chances, and we should be proud of it. However, Alabama has not paid for the first error, so it is not yet eligible for a second chance.

Shame on you, Nate Oats and Greg Byrne. Shame on both of you. You’ve shown the college basketball world a new low while teaching nothing to the young men in your charge.


YouTube video

More coverage of Brandon Miller and Arkansas basketball from BoAS…

Facebook Comments