In the fall of 2004, Rashad McCants failed half his classes at the University of North Carolina – F's in algebra and psychology. Yes, algebra … in college. Whatever, maybe it was tough.
Still, McCants was well known as an uninterested student, with a difficult personality and a mercurial way about him. He was there to play basketball, an off-court headache requiring dedicated babysitting. It was only worth it because McCants, undeniably, could really play the game.
His coach at UNC, Roy Williams often referred to him as selfish and a challenge. McCants would later compare his time with the Tar Heels to being in "jail."
It was what it was, an age-old and uneasy marriage built on the fact McCants was looking to use UNC as a springboard to the NBA and UNC was looking to use McCants to win it a national title, which he helped do in the spring of 2005.
Another thing happened that spring, though. Rashad McCants, despite the grind of a lengthy NCAA tournament and a spring preparing for the NBA draft, came off a semester where he flunked half his coursework to post straight A's in all four of his classes, winding up on the Dean's List.
This would be considered the academic version of a No. 16 v. No. 1 upset. This was a guy who showed little interest in education, who was prickly and overconfident, and listened to almost no one even before he became a champion, at least according to the UNC basketball program itself. This was someone whose disposition and work ethic made scouts wary despite his prodigious talent even back in high school.
And then he miraculously became a dutiful and indeed perfect student during the one semester of college where it would actually be quite understandable if he didn't work so hard since he was focused on the Final Four and the NBA draft.
Rashad McCants? Four A's?
McCants on Friday told ESPN he received those grades because North Carolina placed him in four garbage no-show classes, the latest headline in an ongoing scandal first uncovered by The News & Observer that's humiliated the athletic department. This time he becomes the link to the school's storied basketball program. He called his academic career "almost a tragedy." He even says he's "100 percent" sure Roy Williams knew about it and was just trying to keep him eligible.
Williams denies that charge and denies knowing much about anything, which may or may not be true but certainly isn't a surprise. Head Coaching 101 says deny everything. Always.
It doesn't matter what anyone says though – not Williams and not even McCants.
The story is in the transcript, which ESPN says it has verified and UNC hasn't taken issue with.
Rashad McCants – the Tar Heel player who demanded the most attention to remain on the straight and narrow, the Carolina star who was least likely to become a straight-A student – pulled off an all-timer of an academic comeback. Yet when the grades came through the system, apparently no one in the athletic department in general and basketball office in particular said, "wait, what?"
The issue with Roy Williams and a host of others in Chapel Hill isn't even whether they knew McCants was effectively cheating during the spring of 2005. Yes, that's a big charge McCants is leveling, but unless some old, incriminating emails are found, good luck with that sticking.
The deal is that when the grades came in, they didn't immediately investigate how exactly this guy got them.
Did he indeed take no-show classes without their knowledge? Did he cheat on his own, maybe submitting someone else's work? Was there a rogue professor out there? Was this a positive story – did a star tutor work with him, someone who clearly had a magic touch and deserved a promotion? Anyone? Anything? No curiosity?
If Roy didn't know something was potentially problematic here, then maybe someone should look into his old UNC academic work because there is no way someone that clueless could have possibly earned a degree from such a fine university.
I mean, dadgummit. Rashad McCants? Four A's? Ha.
Carolina fans can spend as much time as they want pointing to other players who say they did their own work, which is nice but not relevant to this case. They can blast McCants as a problem child and a liar and a rat and a desperate idiot who deserves the blame for blowing a great chance at an education.
They can say anything they want to say. It may even be true.
The thing is, that's what has long been said about McCants, which is why when he, of all people, became one of the finest scholars in all of Chapel Hill – a program that cared about academic integrity and educating the players – someone should have immediately been terrified that something was up. At least, if the coaching staff or academic department weren't in on it.
They still could investigate, of course. UNC could ask real questions and demand real answers. It could corner its Hall of Fame coach and not let denial rule the day.
It could, at last, begin to get real with this entire scandal.
Or it could just let everyone blame Rashad McCants.