The SEC announced its men’s basketball player and freshman of the week as usual Monday.
Remarkably, neither award went to the ballyhooed NBA prospect who piled up 65 points and 14 rebounds in a pair of victories.
Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe received SEC player of the week after averaging 23.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in decisive victories over Florida and Auburn. Arkansas guard Nick Smith Jr. secured SEC freshman of the week after averaging 25 points and 3.5 rebounds in a victory over Georgia and a loss to Alabama, his third and fourth games back from a lingering knee injury.
Snubbed was embattled Alabama freshman Brandon Miller, despite his tallying more points than Tshiebwe or Smith. It apparently didn’t matter that Miller delivered a go-ahead layup in the final second of overtime to defeat South Carolina on Wednesday or that he was a more efficient scorer than Smith in Alabama’s head-to-head victory over Arkansas three days later.
Why didn’t Miller win either award? One possibility is that the SEC merely wanted to spread the love. Miller has captured league freshman of the week honors six times this season. Only a week ago, the league awarded freshman of the week honors to Kentucky’s Chris Livingston, even though Miller produced a slightly better statistical output.
The other possibility is that the SEC didn't want to celebrate Miller after a week in which he was the subject of national outcry. Many have questioned why Alabama is still allowing Miller to play after the revelation that he was more involved in the shooting death of a woman last month in Tuscaloosa than the university initially realized.
Police testimony at a Tuesday court hearing stated that Alabama teammate Darius Miles texted Miller from the Tuscaloosa strip to ask him to bring Miles his handgun after midnight Jan. 15. Soon afterward, Miles’ longtime friend Michael Davis allegedly used that gun to kill 23-year-old Jamea Jonae Harris.
Miller has not been charged with a crime, and police appear to consider him a witness, not a subject, in the investigation. An attorney representing Miller said in a statement last week that 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.”
Alabama coaches and administrators have proceeded as if there’s nothing to see here and as if the school’s best player did nothing wrong in transporting a gun to a friend who had been partying until the late hours of the night. Coach Nate Oats has started Miller every game since the Jan. 15 shooting and said last week that Miller is “not in any trouble.”
Just when the story might've finally died down, Miller needlessly inflamed it again Saturday. TV cameras caught him participating in a pregame introduction routine of being patted down by a walk-on pantomiming a weapons search, a routine he has apparently been doing for most of the season.
Even Oats called the routine “not appropriate” under the circumstances. He told reporters after Saturday’s game: “I can assure you, it definitely will not happen again for the remainder of this year.”
As for the SEC, it has not stepped in to punish Miller, nor has it issued any comment about his behavior. The league has instead stood by silently and allowed Alabama to handle the situation how it sees fit.
Everything was business as usual until the SEC passed over Miller for both of its weekly awards, a decision that reeks of straddling the line to avoid negative publicity.
If Alabama and the SEC are going to take the stance that Miller can play on, then award him for his on-court performance. Heck, give him extra credit for thriving despite the “adversity” of “lock him up” taunts and catcalls from opposing fans.
There will be no straddling the line next week, when the SEC hands out its season-long awards. Based on on-court performance, the freshman of the year is Miller. He might be player of the year, too.
Either recognize him or sit him. The SEC can’t have it both ways.