A week before the beginning of practice, North Carolina's basketball team must figure out how to replace yet another player.
UNC forward Will Graves - a fifth-year senior who was expected to contribute depth and experience to the a young Tar Heels team this season - has been dismissed from the team for a "failure to comply with team rules," coach Roy Williams announced Thursday.
"This is 100 percent not related to any NCAA matters on campus," Williams said in a prepared statement that underlined 'not' for emphasis.
The NCAA is currently investigating the football program for improper benefits from an agent and possible academic misconduct involving an undergraduate tutor. Williams has said the tutor in question did not work with any men's basketball players.
This marks the second time in two years that the 6-foot-6 Graves, who hails from Greensboro, has been publicly disciplined for breaking unspecified team rules. In February 2009 - past the midpoint of UNC's NCAA championship season - Graves was suspended. He spent the rest of that season practicing with the team and sitting on the bench during games, in uniform.
But this time around, a team spokesman confirmed in an e-mail that Graves will no longer be at team workouts or on the bench. Asked if there's any way Graves can earn his way back on the team, UNC associate athletic director for communications Steve Kirschner wrote, "no."
This also marks the second surprise departure for the Tar Heels this offseason. In early May, rising sophomore twin forwards David and Travis Wear, surprised Williams when they finished exams, flew home to California and informed the coach via a telephone call from their father that they planned to transfer. (The Wears will sit out this season and play for UCLA.)
A smooth outside shooter, Graves spent most of his college career playing on the wing. But with the loss of the Wears, as well as the departure of starting forwards Ed Davis and Deon Thompson to play professionally, Graves had been expected to log some minutes in the post this season. His dismissal further diminishes the team's options at forward, leaving junior Tyler Zeller, sophomore John Henson and graduate student transfer Justin Knox as the only Tar Heels players with significant post experience.
Graves averaged 9.8 points during UNC's lackluster 2009-10 season, when it finished 20-17, failed to make the NCAA tournament and reached the NIT championship game. He had arthroscopic surgery on his right ankle in early June and spent his offseason trimming his weight after Williams told him he needed to get under 240 pounds to have a chance to start.
"I hate this for Will," Williams said in the statement. "He worked extremely hard this summer to get himself physically in the best shape he's been in years, but he did not do everything he needed to do to be a part of our basketball program. This is a huge blow to our team, but an even bigger blow for Will. Playing for the Tar Heels meant so much to him."
Graves' departure leaves the Tar Heels with only one scholarship senior - Knox, a transfer from Alabama who has yet to play in a game for UNC.
The team opens practices next Friday.
Staff researcher Peggy Neal contributed to this story.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-829-8944