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Monday December 6th

Former basketball player Rashad McCants speaks out about academic experience at UNC

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Rashad McCants, former North Carolina men’s basketball player and 2005 national champion, said in an interview with ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that he took "paper classes" at UNC and didn’t have to go to class.

And in the interview, partially released on ESPN.com on Friday morning, McCants said he thought coach Roy Williams knew his players were taking the "paper classes."

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“It’s hard for anybody not to know about the fact that we’re taking African American studies courses and we don’t have to go to class,” McCants said in the interview. “That’s very obvious, especially when (Williams) has his coaches checking our classes and checking our schedules and checking our grades. It was something that was a part of the program.”

After his junior season at UNC, McCants was selected 14th overall in the 2005 NBA Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He played four seasons in the NBA with the Timberwolves and the Sacramento Kings.

In the interview, McCants told “Outside the Lines” he didn’t write any papers while at UNC, and he said he knew many tutors helped other athletes write their papers.

“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 said in the ESPN interview.

"... 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. You're there to make revenue for the college. You're there to put fans in the seats. You're there to bring prestige to the university by winning games.”

Jay Smith, a history professor at UNC and a frequent critic of UNC's handling of the academic scandals, said he commends McCants’ statement about his experiences. 

“It can't be easy for UNC athletes to talk about these issues,” Smith said in an email. “Everyone should note his motivation: he wants to change the system for the kids. The hypocrisy must stop.”

Bubba Cunningham, the director of athletics at UNC, released a statement on Friday regarding McCants' interview. Cunningham could not be reached for further comment.

“It is disappointing any time a student is dissatisfied with his or her experience. I welcome the opportunity to speak with Rashad McCants about returning to UNC to continue his academic career – just as we have welcomed many former student-athletes interested in completing their degrees.

"The University hired former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein in January to conduct an independent investigation into past academic and athletic irregularities. While these are the first allegations we have heard from Mr. McCants, I encourage him to speak with Mr. Wainstein. We are confident Mr. Wainstein’s inquiry will provide us with a full understanding of these issues.

"Since becoming Carolina’s director of athletics, I have gotten to know some of Mr. McCants’ teammates, and I know that claims about their academic experience have affected them deeply. They are adamant that they had a different experience at UNC-Chapel Hill than has been portrayed by Mr. McCants and others. I am impressed with their love for Carolina and passion for their education. Several of them have continued to take classes and finish their degrees and all of them are proud of their academic achievements. We, too, are proud of them.”

Roy Williams also released a statement Friday afternoon.

“Our players have been deeply hurt over the last couple of years, and again today, by the comments and innuendo concerning their academic achievements. The young men who accepted scholarships to play basketball at this University have done so expecting a world-class basketball experience, in addition to a world-class education. Obviously, we pride ourselves on being one of the top basketball programs in the country, but equally important, in helping our players grow academically and socially, as we promised their parents we would.

"Our student-athletes understand the value of a degree from the University of North Carolina and accept their academic responsibilities in earning that degree. They take seriously their efforts to, in some cases, become the first member of their families to graduate from college.

"I love them for all they have meant to UNC and to me, and I will continue to believe in and support them.

"With respect to the comments made today, I strongly disagree with what Rashad (McCants) has 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. 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.”

In October 2004, before his junior season, McCants said in an interview with WRAL-TV playing college basketball at UNC was equivalent to being in jail.

"It's to get up and go to school, get here and lift weights and play basketball," McCants said in the interview in 2004. "That's my 9-to-5. As my uncle said, I'm in jail right now. You're not allowed to do certain things, you're not allowed to say certain things. But once you get out of jail, you're free. So I'm just in my sentence and I'm doing my time."

Bradley Bethel, a current reading specialist for student-athletes at UNC, said he believes there is more to the story of student-athletes at UNC.

“‘Outside the Lines’ has chosen to portray the UNC student-athlete experience using only the perspectives of selected malcontent former athletes who seem to have squandered their educational opportunity and focused exclusively on sports,” Bethel said in a text message. “Many counter-narratives exist from current and former Tar Heel athletes, but OTL has ignored those in favor of scandal.”

Summer Editor Paige Ladisic contributed reporting.

Contact the desk editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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