As a starter on North Carolina’s 2005 national championship team, swingman Rashad McCants earned the reputation as an athletic scorer, a determined winner — and a moody player. The latter is a stigma that followed him to the NBA, and that he thinks has helped keep him unsigned this offseason, despite the fact that he has averaged 10 points, 2 rebounds and 1.3 assists over four pro seasons.
“I was always tough-skinned and hardworking, and I didn’t really care what people said about me, because I knew my ability,’’ said McCants, who was drafted 14th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves after his junior year, was traded to Sacramento last season, and is now a free agent. “But now, after five years, [that reputation] is still around, and it’s still haunting me from getting a job and being successful.”
After having a heart-to-heart with former Tar Heels Makhtar Ndiaye, Shammond Williams, Vince Carter and Terrence Newby in Chapel Hill last week, the Asheville native decided he wanted to try to open up to both Tar Heel fans – and potential NBA bosses. In a wide-ranging interview with The News & Observer on Thursday, he explains why he thinks he gets a bad rap, how he feels about former coaches Matt Doherty and Roy Williams, the genesis of the ailment that caused him to miss four games his junior season, and why he didn’t need a psychologist his freshman season.
McCants plans to work out with the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday:
Q: What do you want fans to know about you, and what do you want NBA teams to know about you?
A: I’m definitely not a goody-two-shoes type of guy. I do have a persona about me that I want to uphold, that I’m a hard worker and I am a trash-talker, I do have confidence. But I’m not a bad a guy. I’m not a guy who thinks he’s better than anybody else. I’m a winner. I know what it takes to win; I’m confident in my ability to win. I do whatever it takes to get the job done.
Q: What do you think is the perception of you, among NBA teams?
A: It’s kind of a re-ocurring conversation of people saying I’m moody, and have a bad attitude. It’s kind of hard to believe … but I’ve always been a winner, so it’s hard for me to take losing well.
Q: Did your “moody” reputation from UNC follow you to the NBA?
A: Unfortunately, I think it probably did. And I think ‘moody’ is a word you can use about anyone .. you don’t wake up and feel the same every day. When I was in college, I was very young, and ambitious and talented, and I wanted to do a lot of things. And it started off where people thought me and Matt Doherty had issues – where my first year, I played pretty good. I could have done better, but once the 'scoop' became a public dispute where I was supposedly getting him fired and all this stuff, it kind of tore down my innocent wall of being just a regular Carolina player, to one with an attitude, to uncoachable – and that was unfair, because no one knew exactly what was going on.
Q: So what was going on?
A: Right before Matt Doherty got fired [in 2003], everybody was given the opportunity to say, ‘if he leaves, are you going to stay, or you going to go if he stays?’ And I believe I was one of the few who said that even if he goes, I’m going to stay here because I came for Carolina; I didn’t come to this school or a coach for a situation, I came for a tradition. So when all this stuff came out, I didn’t understand how all this onus could be put on one person [me] instead of the complete team as a whole.
Q: Do you feel like you got the short end of the stick, in that respect?
A: I’ve always felt that way, but I dealt with it because I always felt like I was taking the pressure off the whole team. And I felt like, when Dennis Rodman was playing with the Bulls, he took the pressure off the team by putting all the pressure on himself; he could handle it. And so it made the team more successful. And I think when you have one player handling all the controversy, it’s on the player, not the team – and that’s the role I pretty much played when I was in college. … That’s why I’m a little bit bitter about not having a job right now, and being labeled – when truly, I’m the one that took everything on my back. I was always tough-skinned and hardworking, and I didn’t really care what people said about me, because I knew my ability. But now, after five years, it’s still around, and it’s still haunting me from getting a job and being successful.
Q: Do you feel like you’ve been embraced by Carolina fans? Do you want to be embraced more?
A: I think the Carolina fans are amazing. Even going back, I just get teary thinking about the times I had at Carolina. I feel like, personally, there aren’t a lot of other college basketball players that embraced the fans like I did. I took control over the fact that fans can give you more juice than anything. My interactions with the fans, even today, keep me motivated to just keep playing.
Q: How is your relationship with your 2005 teammates now?
A: Probably the only one of those guys that I’m only close to now is Marvin [Williams]. We keep in touch throughout the year … when I was in Minnesota, I was the farthest away out of those guys – Marvin was in Atlanta, Raymond [Felton] and Sean [May] were in Charlotte. They were a little closer [to Chapel Hill] … I’m in the Midwest, and it was a lot harder for me to come back, and do things I wanted to do to stay in contact with these guys. … I talk to Raymond every now and again when I’m in Charlotte, or talk to Sean every now and again when I’m in Chapel Hill, but the only real one I keep in touch with is Marvin.
Q: What does it mean to you that Makhtar Ndiaye, Shammond Williams and several other former UNC players reached out to you over alumni weekend?
A: It means that they actually care about my progression as a player and a person, and that they feel that I’ve been wrongly treated. And to hear that from another perspective is amazing; it’s amazing to feel appreciated, that guys [four] years later are saying, ‘Man, you’re so good – how are you not on a team right now? It’s unfair to you, it’s unfair to us as fans of yours to not see you playing right now.’ So that alone, to me, is just breathtaking?
Q: What are your feelings today about Roy Williams?
A: Roy Williams, to me, is a person who really helped me change [my] perception when he got there; he gave me a fresh start. He actually gave me a lot of confidence my sophomore year; I averaged 20 ppg that season. … Coach just told me to be aggressive, and he had confidence in my ability to take over games, and to help my teammates. He put my scoring ability out as a strength, and a powerful strength, for me. I’ll always honor Coach Williams for that, and the fact that he told me to my face, ‘I’m here this year, and we’re going to make the tournament. We’re probably not going to go all the way, but next year, we’re going to win it all.’ And that’s what we did.
Q: Are you close to Williams; do you still speak to him regularly?
A: Of course. Every time I’m in town, we sit down, talking 45 minutes to an hour, just catching up. My phone number is constantly changing, so he’s always chasing my number down.
Q: Does it bother you that there’s a perception out there that you had a difficult relationship with him at Carolina?
A: That’s totally been taken the wrong way. Any player that’s supposed to be a leader and is not doing his job, there’s going to be a conflict, and that was my conflict. I didn’t know if I was supposed to be a leader. And coach told me that ‘you’ve got to lead by example – you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that.’ And I wasn’t doing that. But once we had that conversation, it was pretty much easy from there.
Q: What are your feelings today about Matt Doherty?
A: I have tremendous respect for Coach Doherty, because he gave me the opportunity to play at North Carolina, and I’ll always be grateful to him for giving me that opportunity. Despite what anybody says about us bumping heads, we always had conversations about Michael Jordan, James Worthy ... and guys who could have averaged this, could have averaged that, but it was all about the team. With all of these conversations we used to have, he understood that my first three months playing ball [at UNC], I was actually leading the ACC in scoring, and it was something he didn’t want me to get overzealous about. He wanted to make sure I stayed humble, in being that good, that early. I think everyone took that out of context, and they started saying that we were bumping heads, all of that. But he was just trying to humble me, and not let it get to my head.
Q: Is it true that Coach Doherty once took you to a psychologist when you were at UNC, and did you bump heads over that?
A: That is something that happened, and I think that’s just because Coach didn’t get to know me as a person – he never sat down and had a conversation with me, and I think that, with me, I’m not as easy to read as a lot of other people. Any mistakes I make, any facial expressions or body language I have is always toward myself, not anybody else. I’m a perfectionist, I like to do things right all the time, so anytime I’m wrong, I want to fix it, and I want to figure out why I’m doing what I’m doing. And that would be a [miscommunication] between me and Coach Doherty, because I would make a mistake, I would come out, he would think I was mad at him, when I was just mad at myself. There was never a conversation that I had, like with Coach Williams, where he could understand where I was coming from, so that’s where the psychologist came in. And I had a sit-down with him, and as a young guy, I didn’t understand it. I didn’t think I was crazy or anything, and that was my perception at the time, that you see a psychologist because you’re crazy, because you have a problem.
Q: Did you need a psychologist?
A: I consider myself a highly intelligent person. And even talking to the psychologist, he was wondering why I was in there talking to him. After that conversation, it reassured me that I was far from being unstable as a basketball player, it was just that the coach didn’t take the time to get to know the real me. I think that any coach, if they have a question, they should come and ask me … that we should have a conversation, and take the time to understand where the other is coming from.
Q: You missed four games during the 2005 title season because of an “intestinal disorder.” What happened? And was it really an intestinal disorder?
A: There was never any real diagnosis; no one could say exactly what was wrong. I can say that I got over it pretty quick. It came about once I found out my mom was diagnosed with cancer … but I did feel better after after about a week, and it hasn’t been a lingering problem.
Q: Is there anything else you want to add, or clear up, for fans or NBA teams?
A: I feel like I haven’t been able to reach my potential the last four years, and hopefully there’s a team out there that will allow me to showcase my true talent, and not judge me on heresay, or what someone else has heard, or what someone else is saying – but judge me on the fact that I’m a hard worker, and I want to win.