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 tallied 65 points and 14 rebounds in a pair of wins.
Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe received SEC Player of the Week after averaging 23.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in decisive wins 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 win over Georgia and a loss to Alabama, his third and fourth games back from a lingering knee injury.
Snubbed was struggling Alabama freshman Brandon Miller, despite having more points than Tshiebwe or Smith. It apparently didn’t matter that Miller delivered a go-ahead touchdown in the last 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 win over Arkansas three days later.
Why didn’t Miller win any of the awards? One possibility is that the SEC just wanted to spread the love. Miller has won league freshman of the week honors six times this season. Just 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 during a court hearing Tuesday stated that Alabama teammate Darius Miles texted Miller from the Tuscaloosa strip asking him to bring Miles the gun after midnight on Jan. 15. Shortly thereafter, 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 acted as if there is nothing to see here, and as if the school’s best player did nothing wrong to carry a gun to a friend who had been partying into the wee 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 have finally died down, Miller needlessly reignited it Saturday. Television cameras caught him taking part in a pregame introduction routine where he was patted down by a walk-on who pantomimed a gun search, a routine he’s 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 that it will definitely not happen again for the rest of this year.”
As for the SEC, it has not moved to punish Miller, nor has it commented on his conduct. The league has instead stood by and let Alabama handle the situation as it sees fit.
It was business as usual until the SEC passed over Miller for both of its weekly awards, a decision that smacks of crossing the line to avoid negative publicity.
If Alabama and the SEC are going to adopt the attitude that Miller can play, then reward him for his performance on the field. Heck, give him extra credit for thriving despite the “adversity” of “lock him up” taunts and chants from opposing fans.
There won’t be any border crossings next week, when the SEC hands out its season-long awards. Based on performance on the field, the freshman of the year is Miller. He can also be the player of the year.
Either recognize him or put him. The SEC can’t have it both ways.