The Alabama Crimson Tide will begin their March Madness journey on Thursday when they take on the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders in the opening round.
Alabama will be heavy favorites against No. 16 seed Texas A&M who defeated the Southeast Missouri State Redhawks 75-71 in their ‘First Four’ match-up at this year’s NCAA men’s tournament.
And while the team enters the tournament after being named the No. 1 seed for the first time in the school’s history, it comes against a backdrop of a tumultuous off-field season.
The team’s star player, Brandon Miller — expected to be chosen at the top of the June NBA draft — was a “cooperating witness” in a fatal shooting that took place on the Alabama campus in January.
Here’s everything you need to know before the team tournament starts:
In January, former University of Alabama basketball player Darius Miles and co-defendant Michael Lynn Davis were arrested and charged with capital murder in the shooting death of Jamea Jonae Harris near the university campus.
Davis is accused of firing the shot that killed Harris while Miles allegedly helped and supported him, CNN reports.
A law enforcement officer testified that Miles Miller texted to take Miles’ gun to the scene of the shooting, according to CNN affiliate WBMA.
Miller is not charged with any crime. CNN has contacted Miller for comment.
The Alabama athletic department said in February that Miller “is not considered a suspect … only a cooperating witness” in the murder trial.
Both Miles and Davis appeared in a Tuscaloosa court in February for a hearing, court records show. District Court Judge Joanne M. Jannik denied each of their requests to post bail, court documents show.
Miller spoke for the first time since the shooting last week and called it “heartbreaking.”
“I never lose sight of the fact that a family lost one of their loved ones that night,” Miller told reporters. “This whole situation is really heartbreaking, but respectfully, that’s all I can say about it.”
Since being allowed to return to court, Miller has faced boos and jeers from opponents, something he says he has noticed.
“We hear the chants. I feel like we just really lean on each other to go to places like that and get some tough wins,” he explained.
On February 23, Miller scored a career-best 41 points against South Carolina, just hours after the school said he would remain an “active member” of the team as police continue to investigate the shooting. The 41 points were the most by a freshman in Alabama history.
After the win over South Carolina, Alabama coach Nate Oats rowed back at earlier comments he had made about Miller’s connection to Harris’ death, including that the 20-year-old “has not had any sort of issues, not is he in any form of problems in this case.
“I used a bad choice of words, which made it seem like I wasn’t taking this tragic situation seriously,” Oats told reporters. “My sincere apologies for that.”
Explaining the decision to let Miller play, Oats said, “We make decisions based on available facts and that’s what we’ve done here.”
He also called the forward “one of the most mentally tough kids I’ve ever coached” after Alabama’s win.
Miller was named Southeastern Conference (SEC) Player and Freshman of the Year by the league’s coaches last week.