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Roy Williams denies academic claims by former UNC hoops star Rashad McCants

By Andrew Carter
acarter@newsobserver.com

CHAPEL HILL Rashad McCants, one of the players most responsible for leading North Carolina to its 2005 national championship, has provided a critical account of his academic experience at UNC and said that coach Roy Williams was aware of no-show courses in the Afro- and African-American Studies Department.

McCants made the claims during an interview with ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” which on Friday published a story and aired an interview with the former basketball player.

McCants told the network that tutors wrote his papers, that he went to classes about half the time at UNC-Chapel Hill and that no-show courses in the Afro- and African-American Studies Department, or AFAM, kept him eligible.

The comments reinforce previous reports that academic advisers steered UNC athletes into the no-show classes to keep them eligible to play. UNC has been under scrutiny during the past three years about AFAM courses that never met, resulted in high grades and had a high percentage of athletes. UNC has denied those courses constituted a violation of NCAA rules.

The classes helped keep former football star Julius Peppers eligible, according to his transcript that UNC left posted on its website, and McCants says the reason he was eligible to play was because his academic advisers steered him to no-show AFAM courses. McCants was one of several players on the 2004-05 team that majored in African and African-American studies.

McCants said that Williams intervened and helped him remain eligible during the 2004-05 championship season. During the fall of 2004, McCants said he failed two classes, putting his eligibility at risk.

But then Williams, McCants said, stepped in.

“(Williams) said, ‘You know, we’re going to be able to figure out how to make it happen, but you need to buckle down on your academics,’” McCants said.

Williams in a statement released by UNC denied McCants’ claims.

“I strongly disagree with what Rashad (McCants) has said,” said Williams, who didn’t return a message seeking further comment. “In no way did I know about or do anything close to what he says, and I think the players whom I have coached over the years will agree with me.

“I have spent 63 years on this earth trying to do things the right way and the picture he portrays is not fair to the university or me.”

McCants, 29, the second-leading scorer on UNC’s 2005 championship team, told “Outside the Lines” that he made the Dean’s List in spring 2005 despite not attending a single class. He said advisers and tutors who worked with the basketball team steered him to no-show AFAM courses – the kind that required only an end-of-semester paper – and that he received A’s in those four classes that semester.

“Outside the Lines” obtained two copies of McCants’ transcript. In his non-AFAM courses, he never received a better grade than a C. He had six C’s, one D and three F’s in those classes. He took 18 AFAM courses, meanwhile, and received 10 A’s, six B’s, one C and one D.

McCants told “Outside the Lines” that he didn’t question the arrangement of tutors doing his work, nor did he question being steered to no-show classes in the AFAM department. McCants said he assumed tutors wrote papers for other athletes.

“I thought it was a part of the college experience, just like watching it on a movie from ‘He Got Game’ or ‘Blue Chips,’” McCants told “Outside the Lines.” “... when you get to college, you don’t go to class, you don’t do nothing, you just show up and play. That’s exactly how it was, you know, and I think that was the tradition of college basketball, or college, period, any sport. You’re not there to get an education, though they tell you that.”

Impact unclear

McCants’ claims are the latest problem for an athletic department that for years has been trying to move forward following the revelation in 2010 of widespread NCAA violations within the football program. Those violations hastened the retirement of former athletic director Dick Baddour, led to the firing of former coach Butch Davis and resulted in a postseason ban in football, among other penalties.

Until now, UNC’s prestigious basketball program had avoided the controversy. It remains unclear what ramifications, if any, McCants’ claims will bring. The NCAA has shown no sign that it is interested in investigating UNC’s AFAM scandal.

Barring that admission, it could be difficult for the NCAA to investigate. John Infante, an NCAA rules expert who worked in the NCAA compliance offices at Loyola Marymount and Colorado State, outlined in a blog post how unlikely it could be for the NCAA to become involved at UNC.

“If UNC does not consider steering athletes toward the (no-show) classes to be a violation of academic policies, the NCAA cannot even start the process of finding an academic fraud violation,” Infante wrote on his popular ByLaw Blog. “And if McCants had a paper written for him but would have been eligible even if he had failed the class, that is not an academic fraud violation.”

Bubba Cunningham, the UNC athletic director, released a statement Friday in which he encouraged McCants to speak with Kenneth Wainstein, a former federal prosecutor UNC hired in January to investigate past issues of mixing academics and athletics.

“While these are the first allegations we have heard from Mr. McCants, I encourage him to speak with Mr. Wainstein,” Cunningham said in his statement. “We are confident Mr. Wainstein’s inquiry will provide us with a full understanding of these issues.”

Cunningham said in his statement that some of McCants’ teammates were “adamant” they had a different academic experience at UNC from the one McCants described.

Reached Friday, Cunningham reiterated his call for McCants to talk to Wainstein.

Wainstein in a statement said he “would welcome the opportunity” to speak with McCants.

During his years at UNC, McCants, who is from Asheville, was known for his grumpy demeanor and for making controversial statements. He once compared playing at UNC to being in prison, and in interviews he often spoke of how he felt he was misunderstood. He wore several tattoos, one of which read, “Born to be hated, dying to be loved.”

After UNC won the national championship in 2005, McCants announced his decision to skip his senior season and enter the NBA draft. McCants averaged 9.9 points per game during his first four NBA seasons, but he never played in the league after that. He did not graduate from UNC.

On Friday morning, McCants paid a visit to U.S. Rep. Tony Cardenas, a Los Angeles-area lawmaker who has filed legislation that would provide college athletes more educational and health care rights. Cardenas had invited McCants after hearing he was talking about his academic experience at UNC.

Cardenas said McCants recounted being steered to the African studies major and told to enroll in the “paper” classes.

“He said, ‘Now, the education I got there doesn’t serve me very well in the real world,’ ” Cardenas said.

Twitter responses

Several former UNC basketball players used Twitter to dismiss McCants’ comments. John Henson, who played at UNC from 2009 through 2012, described McCants as “certified bonkers” and “disreputable.” Other former UNC players shared similar sentiments, while some defended their academic experience at UNC.

Later Friday, 16 members of UNC’s 2005 national championship team released a joint statement, obtained by The Associated Press, that denied McCants’ allegations.

The statement read, in part: “We are proud of our accomplishments both on and off the floor at UNC. With conviction, each one of us is proud to say that we attended class and did our own academic work. ...

“In light of the comments made by Rashad on ESPN Outside the Lines, we want to state that our personal academic experiences are not consistent with Rashad’s claims. We know that Coach Williams did not have any knowledge of any academic impropriety, and further that Coach Williams would not have tried to manipulate a player’s schedule.”

McCants, who arrived at UNC when Matt Doherty was the team’s head coach, said the coaching staff knew the academic situation for each player, and that the staff was familiar with the paper-class system that helped keep athletes eligible.

Reached on Friday afternoon, Doherty declined to be interviewed about McCants, but he released a short statement.

“I did not see any problems while I was at UNC as a player or a coach,” said Doherty, a former UNC player who coached there from 2000 through 2003. “I feel sorry for Rashad. He has had a lot of ups and downs during his career. If there are any issues, I trust that Bubba Cunningham and the university will get to the bottom of it.”

McCants, meanwhile, told “Outside the Lines” that he was prepared for a negative reaction from UNC fans.

“If there are Carolina fans that don’t like what I’m saying and don’t like what’s happening right now, they need to look in the mirror, see that it’s a bigger picture,” McCants said. “I’m putting my life on the line for the younger generation right now, and I know that nobody else wants to step up and speak out because everybody’s afraid, fear, submission, especially the black athletes ... .

“College was a great experience, but looking back at it, now it’s almost a tragedy because I spent a lot of my time in a class I didn’t do anything in.”

Staff writer Dan Kane contributed to this report.

Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter
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