CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina coach Roy Williams during an interview on Saturday with ESPN again refuted the allegations that Rashad McCants made in an interview with the same network.
During a 35-minute interview with Jay Bilas – with Williams dressed in a suit, surrounded by former players in a show of support – Williams said he was in “disbelief” over McCants’ accusations, and insisted that the players he has coached have done their own school work.
McCants, who helped lead the Tar Heels to the 2005 national championship, told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that tutors wrote his papers, he went to his classes about half the time and advisers and counselors steered him to no-show classes in the African- and Afro-American Studies Department.
Dozens of no-show AFAM classes, dating to the late 1990s, have been found fraudulent. Those classes generally required no classroom attendance and lacked oversight, and grades were based on an end-of-semester paper. The grades were unusually high – featuring a large percentage of A’s and B’s – and the classes were filled with a high percentage of athletes.
McCants alleged that Williams knew about the no-show, paper class system at North Carolina. Williams, during his interview with ESPN, indicated that he didn’t know the classes were being abused, or that they featured little to no supervision or instruction.
“I thought that meant that a class was on paper but it didn’t really exist, and then come to find out people are using that terminology ‘paper classes’ to signify independent study courses that you do papers,” Williams said. “… I’ve been told by people that some of those are really, really good.
“It shows a lot of discipline because you’re self-directed. If my players took independent study courses that were offered by this university for a reason that the university thought they were valuable, my players, if they took those courses, did the work, and I’m proud of that part of it.”
McCants alleged that Williams was behind an idea to manipulate his transcript, replacing a class he failed with a summer course he passed so that he could remain in good academic standing. McCants told ESPN that Williams said, “We’re going to be able to change a class from, you know, your summer session class and swap it out with the class that you failed, just so the GPA could reflect that you are in good standing.”
Williams denied that allegation.
“I don’t have any idea what ‘swapping out’ would be,” Williams said. “That’s not in my vocabulary. You can’t take a course and get another one thrown out at the college level. All of your courses count. So I know I would not have that kind of conversation. I don’t know what swapping out means, and I have never suggested that anybody take any course.”
McCants told ESPN that he was on the verge of becoming ineligible when he failed two classes in fall 2004. The following semester, he said he took four no-show AFAM classes and made A’s in all of them. That landed McCants, who had never made a better grade than a C in a non-AFAM course, on the Dean’s List.
At the same time, he was helping lead UNC to the national championship. After the Tar Heels won, McCants, then a junior, quickly announced his decision to enter the NBA draft.
McCants’ 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.
Williams told ESPN that he “had no idea” whether tutors wrote McCants’ papers, but he said he found that allegation “impossible to believe.”
Williams also said that it has “really been hard to figure out” why McCants would speak out.
“But it’s evident that he’s not happy,” Williams told ESPN. “So as a coach, and especially a coach who has probably thin skin like I do, it’s hurtful, it’s harmful, it makes you think, but I have no idea.”
Eleven former UNC players, including Tyler Hansbrough, Sean May and Marvin Williams, attended Williams’ interview with Bilas. Some of those players spoke to ESPN, off camera, and reiterated their support of Williams.
“Every one of those players that are sitting over there and every player I’ve had make me feel like they did their work, and we emphasize that and we push them towards that all the time,” Williams told ESPN.
Players Williams coached at Kansas also showed support. Former Jayhawks guard Billy Thomas told the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World that he will “stand by Williams 100 percent.”
Thomas told the paper that McCants’ allegations were “coming from a guy that had sour grapes for a long time. If you’ve got that many players who played for this man, and nobody is agreeing with the one player, what does that tell you?”
This is the latest recent problem Williams has encountered. Last summer, UNC’s leading returning scorer, P.J. Hairston, became embroiled in controversy amid an arrest after a traffic stop and he never played a game last season due to an impermissible benefits case that involved high-end rental cars and a tie to a felon. Leslie McDonald, the team’s only scholarship senior last season, missed the first nine games amid the same scandal.
Williams also has been forced to answer other questions about the role suspect AFAM courses have played in keeping his players eligible. McCants’ allegations, though, are the strongest link between no-show AFAM courses and the UNC basketball program.
“Your integrity has been questioned,” Williams said during his interview with Bilas. “Some things have happened that shouldn’t have happened. I tell the kids all the time, ‘You’re accountable, you’re responsible.’ ...
“I feel like that my university, my basketball program, my school has had a tough time and in some ways has been attacked, and that’s not easy.”
Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter