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Saturday Sports: Controversy for Alabama basketball players; USWNT goes undefeated

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: An Alabama college basketball star takes the court in the midst of a legal controversy. U.S. women's soccer team still rules. And a Mississippi State pitcher who can whiff them with either arm. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us. Hi there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: Let's begin with this important controversy in college basketball. Earlier this year, Darius Miles, a University of Alabama player, was charged with capital murder, the death of a 23-year-old woman in Tuscaloosa. Now, he's since been taken off the team. And in a preliminary hearing, a police investigator testified two other players, Jaden Bradley, Brandon Miller, were also at the scene that night. Where does the case stand now?

GOLDMAN: Well, the part of that police testimony this week that's turned this case into a national debate is that Brandon Miller wasn't just there, but he delivered the gun that killed Jamea Harris, mother of a 5-year-old boy. Miller is a 20-year-old freshman star, a big reason why Alabama is currently ranked No. 2 in the nation. He is projected to be a key player in next month's March Madness tournament and then a top NBA draft pick. But now he's connected to a murder, and he's been playing ever since the crime happened in January and even after the revelations of this week.

SIMON: And why are they suited up and playing? I mean, recognizing that everyone's entitled to a fair trial, why?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, neither has been charged with anything by police. Miller's lawyer says Miller never touched the gun, which belonged to that former teammate you mentioned, Darius Miles. It was in Miller's car, and he was driving to pick up Miles when Miles texted, bring the gun. The lawyer says Miller didn't know the gun was going to be used for anything illegal. Alabama Head Coach Nate Oats, who's been criticized for his comments about the case, says they've done the right thing, allowing Miller to play. But, you know, Scott, there's a lot of anger about it. At the game he played this week against South Carolina, some fans chanted lock him up. Jamea Harris's mother said it was unimaginable that he played. And critics of the university and the basketball team say it's another case of a star athlete being protected, especially in this case, with Alabama a strong contender for a first-ever men's basketball title.

SIMON: Yeah. Moving on, more happily, the Women's World Cup of soccer this summer - America's team seems the team of destiny again, right?

GOLDMAN: Well, perhaps, but perhaps not. You know, Scott, it's a team in transition with a lot of...

SIMON: Excuse me. I thought you prompted me to ask that question. Go ahead.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) It's a team in transition, a lot of young players. There's still stars like Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan. But the big name this week was 24-year-old forward Mallory Swanson, known formally to soccer fans as Mallory Pugh, her maiden name. She led the U.S. team to its fourth straight title in the SheBelieves Cup. It's a nice honor, but the team was using it mainly as prep for a World Cup that's going to start in July. That's expected to be very competitive, as the world has been catching up to the great U.S. women's teams.

SIMON: I can't wait to see a college pitcher, Mississippi State - I'm going to leave you to tell us his name - he throws from both sides of the mound, right? He's ambidextrous.

GOLDMAN: It's crazy. Freshman Jurrangelo Cijntje is a rare switch-pitcher, and he's really good at it. In his college debut this week, he pitched four innings - didn't allow a run, gave up just one hit and struck out seven - six as a right-hander, one as a lefty - topping 90 miles an hour with both arms. Now, he has to stick with one arm for each at bat, but it's quite a sight. He was drafted last year by the Milwaukee Brewers, but for now, he's firing his ambidextrous fastballs past college players.

SIMON: Gosh, I've got to see him. NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.