If Carolina Basketball has not changed much from the era of Dean Smith to the current program of his protégé Roy Williams, someone is lying, embellishing or taking advantage of what is different.
When Smith coached the Tar Heels for 36 years, he literally talked about his players’ 90-plus percent graduation rate more than their accomplishments on the court, which resulted in two national championships and numerous ACC titles among Smith’s 879 career victories.
Smith’s chief lieutenant at the time, Bill Guthridge, was in charge of monitoring the players’ academic progress – from which courses they took, to their class attendance, to their ultimate grades. Guthridge was notorious for walking the halls of campus buildings, looking into classrooms to see if the Carolina players were there. If they missed a class without authorization, there was hell to pay at practice that day or, during the off-season, running regimens in the afternoon or early morning.
Williams learned how to run a college basketball program from Smith and Guthridge. At Kansas, he was teased about doing too many things just the way they do them at Carolina. Knowing how stubborn Williams is to change anything, it is hard to believe that he does not run his program any differently than Smith ran his.
Of course, college athletes are different these days, some having little or no interest in education, only a pro contract. These are the ones who have to be watched more carefully, whether they are tweeting from a bar in South Beach or trying to avoid their academic responsibilities.
This is not rocket science. Carolina Basketball has always allowed players to find their own levels of comfort. Though not articulated as such by Smith, he wanted all of his players to get whatever education fit their abilities and have a good college experience doing it. That could be from Morehead Scholar Rusty Clark and Steve Hale going on to med school to other players earning a college degree that would help them find some profession if they weren’t pro material.
This is why Smith was so bullish on pushing high draft choices out of his program – because he knew it meant financial security for life. He was meticulous about lining up the right financial advisors for his players who were turning pro, so they wouldn’t squander the millions they were about to make.
I have known Roy Williams since he was a student at UNC, running the intramurals program and eventually getting a Master’s in Education so he could coach and teach like his mentor. Williams admits that he copied everything from Smith, from sitting at practice filling up legal pads with notes as a grad student to learning every aspect of running a college program once he joined the UNC staff.
Since Carolina Basketball has always been insulated from the rest of the athletic department, Rashad McCants’ sweeping allegations are hard to believe. Tar Heels under Smith and Williams had their own academic advisors and tutors, from the beloved Burgess McSwain, to Wayne Walden, who followed Williams here from Kansas, to current fifth-year academic advisor Jenn Townsend, who held the same job at Minnesota and Indiana and has a Master’s from Michigan.
The only explanation I can muster is that there was a lapse during Matt Doherty’s three seasons running the program from 2000-2003. Williams inherited Doherty’s roster, a roster that produced UNC’s fourth (and Williams’ first) NCAA championship in 2005, but which had 5-7 players majoring in African and Afro-American Studies.
In my column last week, I wrote about how Walden may have discovered improprieties over his first few years in Chapel Hill and, by 2009, there were no basketball players majoring in AFAM. Walden resigned in the summer of 2009 and moved to Dallas, where he has been impossible to reach.
The fact that 16 teammates from the 2005 season have refuted McCants’ claims puts the onus squarely on those student-athletes who learned how to game the system. The ESPN Outside the Lines piece reported that McCants took 18 AFAM classes in his three years and summer school sessions in Chapel Hill. Of the 40 or so courses needed to graduate, 18 doesn’t seem out of whack if they are electives in a student’s major.
That McCants took so many so-called paper classes offered mostly during the summer is on McCants for looking for an easy way out and deposed department chair Julius Nyang’oro for lazily converting lecture classes to independent study courses so he did not have to teach them.
As for McCants riding over with carloads of teammates to pick up plagiarized papers from unnamed tutors, I would take the word of those teammates before believing McCants, who had a documented history of emotional problems when he was in school here. Most coaches would have thrown McCants off the team for some of his actions and words, but as written here before, Carolina basketball coaches don’t operate that way. They praise and punish the players as they would their own children.
The comments from McCants and the response from Williams should not be left as a he said/he said between a troubled former player and a Hall of Fame coach who for 26 years at Kansas and Carolina has had an exemplary record with his teams on and off the court.
Chancellor Carol Folt and Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham issued weak statements Tuesday, obviously adhering to a recently established policy that we ain’t saying anything until hired gun Ken Wainstein does.
The university needs to make a much stronger statement, supporting Williams unequivocally that he had no knowledge of inappropriate work being done by, or for, McCants during the year and a half he was actually in school while Williams was at Carolina.
Why UNC has not come out with a stronger defense for Williams is beyond me, and speaks to the public relations disaster it has created by never having decided how to respond correctly to many of the reports and accusations stemming from the AFAM scandal.
If Jay Bilas, the former Dukie and ESPN basketball maven, figured out that Williams hadn’t been back here long enough to know what McCants was up to and came out in support of the coach, why can’t Carolina do that?