During a layover at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on the way back from Jordan's camp last August, McCants had what he calls "a life-changing talk" with May and another longtime friend, Wake Forest guard Justin Gray. McCants, May recalls, was almost in tears.
"I feel like I've got the worst reputation in the world," McCants told them, "and I don't know how to change it."
"Just start with today," May responded. "Don't be unapproachable. Smile if somebody comes up to you. You walk around sometimes with this straight-faced look, and it's like nobody can talk to you. I'm your boy, and I'm going to tell you: There's stuff you need to change."
"He took it well," May says. "Nowadays he'll stop and talk to everybody, even joke a little bit. He's starting to enjoy college."
McCants still has his moments. Last fall he caused an uproar when he said playing for Carolina was like serving a prison sentence (he later apologized), and he occasioned more head-scratching with the two fresh tattoos on his arms reading born to be hated and dying to be loved. But most days he seems to be doing the right things: Cheering on teammates during drills; cracking wise in the locker room. The shield might be starting to lift. "I want everyone to know that just because I don't smile doesn't mean I'm gonna curse when you speak to me," he says. "Just because I'm not glowing with enthusiasm doesn't mean I'm gonna go crack somebody in the face. I don't want everybody to feel threatened or defensive around me. Perception is deception."
But deception can cut both ways. Despite what he may think sometimes, nobody hates Rashad McCants. Nobody who knows him, at least. Not Jamie Arsenault, his coach at New Hampton, who says, "I've never had a more clutch player, and I love him as a kid." Not his Carolina teammates. "He doesn't realize that not everybody is against him," says Jawad Williams. "As a team we're never against him."
And certainly not Roy Williams. "Bottom line, he can play his butt off," the coach says. "Bottom line, he's a good kid. Bottom line, if it's something extremely important, I trust him unequivocally."
Late last summer McCants paid a visit to Asheville. He stopped to see Julia Darity and told her about being cut by USA Basketball. "I know sometimes you can't help it," she told him, "but maybe, baby, you'll have to start thinking before you act."
"I know," McCants replied. "You're going to see a better me this season."
A better me. The charming Southern lady smiles. "I believe him," she says.