To hear McCants tell the story, Doherty nearly crushed that spirit two years ago. Despite scoring 28 points in his first college game and winning the MVP award of the Preseason NIT, McCants clashed early with the coach over his crowd-inciting displays (like that infamous X sign, which James McCants says means "total domination"). "The more I wanted to be this junkyard dog," says McCants, "the more I was turned into this laid-back grocery bagger." As McCants withdrew, Doherty tried other approaches. His staff asked McCants to meet with "a friend," who turned out to be a sports psychologist ("the most embarrassing moment of my life," McCants says). When Doherty continued chastising McCants in practice, the relationship soured beyond repair. ("I wish the young man well," Doherty says. "There are other people dealing with him now.")
It's worth noting that when N.C. State's Hodge called McCants a "pussy" at the scorer's table before last season's game in Raleigh, the Tar Heel merely laughed and dropped 22 big ones on his nemesis in a taut Carolina victory. McCants's response was evidence of the maturity he's gained under Williams, the result of a bond that was forged after McCants's miserable four-point, five-turnover performance in that 61--56 loss at Kentucky. In an emotional closed-door meeting, Williams dropped the hammer--demanding that McCants issue a cease-and-desist warning to his father, who had complained publicly about Rashad's benching during the second half against the Wildcats--and professed his faith, saying he believed in his fellow Asheville native.
At the end of the meeting Williams vowed to do something he had never done with any of his players. If McCants wishes, he'll join him in the greenroom at the NBA draft. "That was as big a promise as I'll ever get," McCants says. "From that point on I trusted him, and he trusted me."
There have been slipups, of course, especially with people who don't have the time to build relationships. At the tryouts for the U.S. junior team, McCants dominated the early workouts. He rained three-pointers from NBA range. He used his 6'4", 207pound bulk to overpower weaker guards in the post. "There wasn't anything I didn't do those first three days," McCants says. "Then I pretty much put it in cruise control, which is something an athlete should never do." Not wanting to injure his sore right knee, McCants says, he shut down. His defense sagged. His effort slackened. With NBA scouts watching, the bad old body language returned. At a team meal he complained about not receiving the entr�e he wanted and stalked back to his room.
Bewildered team officials asked if McCants was trying to get cut. (He wasn't.) Scouts wondered privately if he should be on medication for his behavior. McCants apologized to Sampson, but it was too late. "I'm not taking you on this trip, and it's not because of your talents," the coach finally told him. McCants had been cut from a team despite being its best player--again. "My heart was in my stomach," he says.
"Rashad was our best shooter, our best post-up player, our best creator," Sampson says with a sigh. "He's a good kid who's going to be a lottery pick. But the area of the game where he'll make his biggest improvements is on teammate issues."
Within hours McCants phoned Roy Williams and said he was sorry for embarrassing North Carolina. But when the Tobacco Road media began calling, he ignored them, retreating back within himself, back within that blue loose-leaf notebook.
Is it because my car is nice, clothes are nice, because I listen to Jay-Z, cuz I'm kinda cute? Or is it just "jealousy"? This has got to be the weakest emotion that anyone can have. To be jealous that I have what you don't have. But what I don't understand is why hate on just me? Then I thought, ain't no one fresher than me, no one flier than me, no one realer than me. So I am the reason people hate, prime reason you should hate anyone like me. I think it's cuz I was "BORN 2 BE HATED."
during a layover at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on the way back from Jordan's camp in August, McCants had what he calls "a life-changing talk" with Sean May and another longtime friend, Wake Forest guard Justin Gray. McCants, May recalls, was almost in tears.
"I don't know what to do," McCants told them. "I feel like I've got the worst reputation in the world, and I don't know how to change it."