NASHVILLE — Alabama basketball coach Nate Oats has been working on being there for his players this week, but he also needed people and places to turn to.
In addition to the advice he has sought from those close to him and those far away, Oats has also paid attention to his Christian faith. It was key to helping him through this week’s circumstances after Alabama basketball player Darius Miles was arrested Sunday morning and charged with capital murder. Jamea Jonae Harris, 23, was shot and killed near The Strip. Miles, who is no longer part of the program, provided the firearm used in the shooting, according to court documents. Michael Lynn Davis, who is not affiliated with UA, was also arrested and charged with capital murder. Investigators believe Davis fired the shot that killed Harris.
Oats described the events of the past few days as shocking when asked how he had processed everything.
“But I’m a believer,” Oats told SEC Network Tuesday after the game, “so a lot of prayer, a lot of Bible reading, just trying to figure out what to say to the team.”
Among those Bible verses was Romans 8:28, which in the NIV version reads, “And we know that in all things God works for good to those who love him, to those who are called according to his purpose.”
“It obviously doesn’t look like there’s anything good in it, but we’re trying to use it to bring the team closer together,” Oats said. “It’s a tragic situation.”
Oats reiterated Tuesday that he is praying for Harris and her family.
“Especially her son,” said Oats. “It’s heartbreaking. She left a five year old here. The whole situation needs a lot of prayer.”
The shooting has resulted in an unprecedented week for Alabama. While Sunday’s events were being processed, the team also had a basketball game to prepare for against Vanderbilt on Tuesday. Alabama won 78-66.
“The basketball side got really, really irrelevant there for a while, but the basketball side also gives us a place where our team can pull together,” Oats said on the SEC Network. “It gives us something else to think about because of the seriousness of the situation. I mean, a young girl’s life was lost.”
Over the course of several interviews while in Nashville, Oats described the past few days and how Alabama (16-2, 6-0 SEC) was dealing with it.
“It wasn’t covered in the college coaching basketball class,” Oats said on the pregame radio show. “Here you have to get a really good feel for where your guys are. Even when you go into the team briefings, you have to play by ear a bit and see where they are, where their heads are, and go from there.
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Oats received a call Sunday morning with news of the shooting. He immediately called Alabama athletics director Greg Byrne and began making a plan for dealing with the aftermath.
Then the team got together on Sunday evening.
“Sunday was really tough,” Oats said on the SEC Network. “I think they realized the seriousness of the whole situation.”
Alabama had its team chaplain in the room, as did Byrne and all of the staff.
“I told the team I’m just going to give them some time to themselves, we just pushed the team meeting back, back, back until we had some sort of answer,” Oats said on the pregame radio show.
The players chatted and told Oats they weren’t in the right mood to hold Sunday practice, which Oats said he understood.
“We gave them the night off that they said they would be ready (Monday),” Oats said. “Many of them had not slept.”
Tuscaloosa City Deputy Police Chief Sebo Sanders spoke to the team, Oats said. Monday also included a return to basketball.
The Crimson Tide went through what Oats called the Vanderbilt staffing on day one, and Alabama practiced later.
“I thought the practice was good, thought the lads were locked in, thought it was a little respite from everything they’d been thinking about,” Oats said on the radio before the game.
Alabama then boarded a plane to Nashville and hit the gym before ending the day with video work ahead of Vanderbilt (9-9, 2-3) on Tuesday.
Oats said he didn’t see a ton of emotion leading up to the game. That changed after the game. He said he saw some members of the team collapse afterward.
“I think they bottled some stuff,” Oats said. “We have a job to do, we have to come to the game, come to the game, take care of business. It’s almost like a great relief that the game is over and we can breathe a sigh of relief.”
Oats said after the game he knows his players and the program will need more time. Players have been using the program’s resources to seek out advisors, and more players are expected to seek out advisors on Wednesday.
“It’s a difficult situation for the boys,” Oats said. “I thought before the game the boys locked in, ready to go. It was almost like, ‘Let’s use basketball as a little salvation, if that makes sense. I just think after the game it got a bit more emotional than before the game.”
Max Donaldson and Tommy Deas of Tuscaloosa News contributed to this report.