As Oats answered basketball questions, he was expansive and almost ebullient, describing the selflessness of his players — “All of our kids are high-character kids,” he said — and the importance of receiving contributions from the entire roster for his team to be at its best. His opening statement lasted four minutes.
But as he answered questions about the murder case, Oats’s countenance turned somber. He pursed his lips, and his eyes darted around the room. He spoke succinctly, rarely stringing more than a sentence or two together.
The most discomforting question was among the last. In the two months since Harris was killed, Oats was asked, had he attempted to speak with anyone in her family?
Oats, in the aftermath of the shooting, solicited advice from Ray Lewis, the former N.F.L. star who was involved in a murder investigation and testified against two of his friends. But as of late last month, Oats had not reached out to the family, according to AL.com.
“Listen, this whole situation has been, obviously, as you know, hard to deal with, tragic, to have any involvement in a young woman losing her life,” Oats said on Friday. “What you ask is a private matter; I’m not going to discuss publicly with everybody. A lot of this is just hard to deal with, to be honest with you. But it’s a private matter.”
Whether or not the case has weighed on Alabama players, they seem to have not played as freely and easily of late as they had for much of the season. The Crimson Tide had three narrow victories, including two in overtime, after the pretrial hearing and they lost at Texas A&M in the regular-season finale.
The team played far better on Friday, and Miller led the way.
He knocked down a long 3-pointer just before halftime, extending Alabama’s lead to 41-19, after which he clapped his hands and shouted at the Mississippi State bench. In the second half, he leaped over a defender to tip in an alley-oop pass from Quinerly.
And when the game was over, he did a courtside interview with ESPN and left for the locker room after slapping hands with several fans — all, it seemed, without a care in the world.