Luke DeCock

June 6, 2014

DeCock: War of words between McCants, Williams has historic stakes

North Carolina’s academic scandal has been knocking on the door of the Smith Center for a while now. Rashad McCants on Friday tried to let it in.

The scandal has been knocking on the door of the Smith Center for a while now. Rashad McCants on Friday tried to let it in.

As a player, McCants never saw a shot he didn’t think was worth taking. A decade after he won a national title at North Carolina, McCants took a shot that could do permanent damage to that basketball program.

In an interview with ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” McCants said he was only eligible because of the no-show classes offered by the Department of African and Afro-American Studies and that North Carolina coach Roy Williams was “100 percent” aware of them. McCants also said tutors wrote papers for him and he rarely attended class.

The no-show classes will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the winding timeline of North Carolina’s academic scandal; several of the 2005 national championship team majored in African and Afro-American Studies, so it’s only to be expected that they partook of the no-show classes that department offered, which the News & Observer first reported back in 2012.

McCants is the first, however, to tie Williams specifically to the use of no-show classes to keep basketball players eligible. Williams, in a statement, strongly denied McCants’ allegations.

“With respect to the comments made today, I strongly disagree with what Rashad has said,” Williams said. “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.”

(Meanwhile, in the aftermath of his report into the phony classes, former Gov. Jim Martin had this to say: “My opinion was basketball players wouldn’t tell us anything we didn’t know from other sources.” Whoops.)

McCants is not, to be sure, the most credible of witnesses, always a bit of a loose cannon, never above saying something for effect. This is the same player who once compared college to being in jail, in part because of required class attendance. As Matt Doherty, who recruited McCants to UNC, put it Friday, “He has had a lot of ups and downs in his career.”

Given the tenor of his statement, Williams has no qualms about pitting his word against McCants’ in this matter.

Still, McCants has no reason to lie. And his comments threaten to take North Carolina’s scandal to a new level with his claims Williams knew about the phony classes. All the firewalls the university has tried to build between the scandal and the basketball program could fall at once.

Football player Michael McAdoo already outlined how he was steered to no-show classes by academic advisers in the athletic department; McCants accuses the operation of extending as far as Williams’ office.

“All the President’s Men” was on television Thursday night, and the movie glosses over the key break in the Washington Post’s Watergate investigation amid all the other drama: Tracking the cashier’s check that ended up with burglar Bernard Barker back to unwitting Nixon fundraiser Kenneth Dahlberg.

That was the first concrete link between the White House and the break-in. Everything else flowed from that, right up to President Nixon’s resignation. McCants’ incendiary allegations point to the heart of the Smith Center.

Williams insists McCants is wrong. He better be right about that.

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