In a credibility match-up that pits Roy Williams against Rashad McCants, it would be prudent to stack your coins in the corner with the head basketball coach at the University of North Carolina, and not with his former player.
Inexplicably, some media outlets, including ESPN and a state newspaper whose quest for a Pulitzer is as plain as black and white, have chosen to ignore McCants’ history and awarded him credibility that he hasn’t earned.
Last week, McCants, who left UNC after helping the Tar Heels win a national championship during the 2004-05 season, went on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” and basically said his education was a sham — and that Williams knew it. Williams, when belatedly given the chance to respond to McCants’ accusation, denied being complicit in keeping the player eligible.
By then the ESPN story was already on reruns.
Let’s take a look at the two main characters.
Williams, who did his internship under Dean Smith, has been a collegiate coach since 1988, first at Kansas and since 2003 at his alma mater. During that time, he has established himself not only as one of the game’s top coaches, but someone who follows the rules and demands that athletes perform on and off the court. Until last week, Williams was widely viewed as a strict disciplinarian whose integrity was not in question. He could leave today for many more millions in the NBA, but stays because he values his relationships with his players and his position to enhance their lives.
Then there is McCants, who was recruited by Williams’ predecessor at UNC and identified early on as a malcontent and loner. In 2004, McCants complained quite publicly about being in “prison” at UNC and the educational demands of Coach Williams, whining then about having to run laps for skipping class. He and his father have been unabashed in criticizing Williams for their belief that he undermined McCants’ NBA career by advising the league’s general managers about his poor attitude. McCants’ NBA career does appear over, but only after he was drafted as the 14th overall pick and then flunked a four-year “tryout” during which he was paid millions of dollars. If you want to understand the intensity of McCants’ father’s dislike for Williams, google “James McCants,” “Roy Williams” and “twitter.”
So there is the motive for why nine years after leaving Chapel Hill, Rashad McCants was finally ready for a tell-all. We hear a book is forthcoming.
ESPN, through its own reporting, knew McCants’ history — as did other media outlets. Yet they ignored all that because McCants’ story squeezed nicely into an existing narrative and advanced a now transparent agenda.
McCants’ story is so implausible that space prevents us from exposing all its holes. But of note is that during the period for which McCants says Williams guided him to easy classes and looked the other way as tutors performed his classwork, eligibility wasn’t a concern. UNC had won a national championship and McCants was headed to the NBA.
It is likely that McCants did cheat; that happens on college campuses, with athletes and non-athletes. But it is a long leap to believe that Williams was part of the conspiracy. No other player for Williams, at either Kansas or North Carolina, has seconded McCants’ motion, and many have come forward in Williams’ defense, including all the members of the championship team who issued a statement saying that their UNC experience was different.
Although McCants’ has offered only nonsense, it reboots a 4-year-old story of the “athletic scandal” at UNC that somehow stays on the front page absent new developments. It has been investigated multiple times, including by a former governor who concluded it was an academic scandal. Currently another investigation is ongoing, and UNC officials have said publicly that McCants is welcome to be interviewed, but apparently he isn’t interested unless the camera is rolling.
None of this excuses the university of all it has been charged with; there were problems, first with some football players who cozied up to agents and derailed what appeared to be a program on the rise, and later when evidence surfaced that a disproportionate number of athletes found themselves taking courses that were less than rigorous in African American Studies at UNC.
But nowhere has there been credible evidence that Williams or the acclaimed basketball program have strayed from the straight and narrow. McCants’ ramblings, and the willingness of an accommodating media to give him a platform, doesn’t change that for those who are willing to look hard at the facts.