|Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the August edition of Inside Carolina magazine.|
The best way to assure that he will do something is to doubt him. He'll just go out and prove you wrong. At first, there were doubts as to whether or not he would actually receive a scholarship offer from UNC. What did he do? He went out and showed the Tar Heel coaching staff what they'd be missing if they didn't offer. It was his dream to wear "North Carolina" on his chest, and he made it happen by impressing Matt Doherty and Company.
"I love Carolina," testified the Asheville native with a grin from ear to ear. "That's where my heart is."
Not only did he make it happen with his physical attributes, but he also used a little reverse psychology in the process. Having grown up a Carolina fan, he really had no interest in attending Duke, but as a ploy, he began listing the Blue Devils to get the UNC staff to take notice.
"[I was interested] a little bit," explained McCants with a sarcastic tone, "until Carolina came along."
It was to let the UNC staff know that he was interested and that he'd rather play for them—but it was their choice. It was a little leverage to initiate an offer—"That's exactly what I was doing," affirmed McCants as he nodded with a smile. It was Carolina all along as far as he was concerned.
"Duke is really not my kind of school. It's low-key, and it doesn't have a nice downtown. I like colleges with lots of people who are diverse. I'm very interested in new people and new things, and I think North Carolina has that."
Following the North Carolina AAU Championship Semi-Finals at Belmont Abbey College, it was apparent that McCants and his Charlotte Royals were heading towards a match-up the following day with the Raleigh Heat. On the roster were future NCAA Division I basketball players—6-10, 210-pound skilled big man Shavlik Randolph and 6-9, 280-pound Eric Williams. The Royals had McCants and Justin Gray, but how in the world could they overcome the disadvantage on the front line?
"You'll see," said McCants when confronted with the question, and then he went out the next day and lived up to his words to the tune of 21 points.
At one crucial juncture, with his team down two points in the fourth quarter and a teammate at the free throw line for a one-and-one opportunity, he lined up in the second position along the lane. To his left—with inside position—was then #1-ranked 6-10 Shavlik Randolph. The ball bounded high off the rim, McCants made one swift "swim move" to get inside position, powered up for the ball, and scored on the put-back for two points to ignite a run that would lead to a double-digit win. Following the put-back he let out one of his trademark primal yells—just to make a point.
When McCants steps onto the court, there are no friendships—only warriors, for and against. And those on the "against" side don't usually prevail. He battles as if his life depended on it.
"When I'm on the court, everybody is my enemy on the opposing team," explained McCants. "I look at them as someone who killed my dog. I'm coming to get them, and no one is going to stop me. My determination to win is just the highest on the court. I can't take 'No' for an answer. I just want my team to win."
The first thing that stands out when watching Rashad McCants—aside from his sleek physique—is his supreme confidence. It even approaches arrogance as if he is making his claim as the "alpha male." When he's on the court, there's no question that he is in charge. He calls the huddles, he makes the decisions, and he gives the directions. Even when he's not on the court, he can be heard leading his team from the bench.
"Get low when you are on defense!" he told a teammate from the sideline, with a full demonstration, in the semi-final win at Belmont Abbey. He's always leading and pushing his teammates.
"It's something that I do,' remarked McCants. "If I'm not doing it, nobody's going to do it. We've got to make things happen on the court, and if I'm not the leader on the court, nothing will happen."
And while he's most definitely the leader on the court, he is keenly aware that he is not the only player on the court. It's a team game, and it takes a team effort. Selfishness will only be counter-productive, and on the AAU circuit, it is prevalent.
"I feel that AAU is mostly offensive, one-on-one, and everybody wants to score," explained McCants. "I'm trying to change that. If you are going to win, you have to have your team involved. I find ways to get my team in the groove—passing the ball, rebounding, and all those things."
He has become known as a "big little guy" because he is able to be a force on the blocks, but he has perimeter skills as well. He doesn't create a lot on the perimeter off the dribble, but he can shoot with the best of them.
"I coached at the USA Basketball Junior Olympics last year," said one AAU assistant coach. "Rashad went out there and shot 64% from the field and 61% from behind the 3-point line. That record will be there for a very long time where somebody shoots so well from both. His jump shot is good, but he's special going to the basket."
Even though McCants hails from Asheville, NC and he attended Asheville-Erwin High School his sophomore year, he's been in prep school at New Hampton School in New Hampshire for the past year. He'll be there for his senior year as well—to challenge him both in the classroom and on the court. Currently, he carries a 3.5 GPA in the classroom and an "A" on the court, and he welcomes the challenge in both arenas.
"It's made up of nothing but (NCAA) Division I guys," stated McCants. "Every team has at least four Division I players on it. Most teams are stacked. It's unbelievable. It's like a league of Oak Hill Academy's."
And it's this attitude to take on the biggest challenges that will help Rashad McCants to improve. He understands that his lack of size will be more of an issue in college and that his skills will have to be finely tuned, but he has the desire, the work ethic, and the intensity to make it happen.
When McCants gets to the University of North Carolina, there will be another guy who is just as intense as he is—Matt Doherty. The former high school All-American and a starter on the 1982 National Championship UNC team showed a calmness on the court as a player but returned with a fiery intensity on the sideline. It was a shock to some that were used to seeing the placid demeanor of Bill Guthridge, but it is something that McCants looks forward to anxiously.
"I've always wanted a coach like that," explained McCants with a glimmer in his eye. "I've never had one, but I've always wanted one that could be in the game with me. That's what he does—he's in the game, but if you need to talk to him, he's there. I like coaches like that."
Uncharacteristically, McCants lost his confidence and his intensity for a short stretch this summer. At the USA and NBA camps he lost his edge, and for at least one game at The Peach Jam it wasn't there either.
The individual nature of the USA and NBA camps made it seem as though each player was playing for himself, and that's not what McCants is all about. He's not looking for individual accolades—although he knows they'll come. He wants to win as a team.
"Camps are more about individuals," said McCants. "I get the ball a lot more in AAU—the offense runs through me."
"It was all due to the fact that I wasn't digging in deep to find myself," added McCants. "I didn't really play hard at the NBA or the USA. I was cruising through, and I had to tell myself at Nike that if I played hard it would come to me.
"When I lost it, it was heartbreaking…It was so disgusting. I had to calm down and listen to some music… When you have a winning team, everybody gets recognized, and that's my purpose."
At The Peach Jam, McCants scored five points and fouled out in a round-robin loss. He was matched up against Bobby Perry, one of the best wing defenders in the class. Even though his ankle was heavily taped he refused to use it as an excuse and acknowledged he entered the game with the wrong mentality.
"I wasn't ready, mentally, for the game," remarked McCants. "I came into the game like we were going to blow them out, and that's not the way you're supposed to come into games. You have to play hard all the time—don't just try to turn it on sometimes."
He's only 16 years old, but he's already becoming a household name, and with the notoriety comes attention from the fans and criticism from the "experts." It's something that he understands, and he's ready to take it—both good and bad.
"A perfect example—Clark Francis of Hoop Scoop: 'Rashad McCants is the most over-rated player in this class,'" recited McCants. "That was the biggest insult of my life. It really, really hurt when I saw that. It could have made me worse, but my Dad talked to me and got me back, and then it was like another boost of confidence. I was either going to go up or go down, so I rose to the occasion.
"I learned from that experience," explained McCants further. "I learned that I can't get down on myself because of what somebody else writes about me. I have to look forward and keep doing the best I can, like playing hard and working hard in the classroom. I can't let things like that bother me.
"Part of winning is failing—you have to lose to be able to be a good winner. You have to know what losing feels like and know how it gets to you on the inside. That's why I love winning."
Behind the emotional, intense, aggressive exterior that you'll see on the court lies your average, everyday teenager.
"It's like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," McCants pointed out. "I'm going to get in your face on the court. I'm going to be in you during the game, but off the court I'll be anybody's friend. That's how I play. I'm a nice guy. I like to be relaxed, but when I'm on the court I work hard, and I'll do anything to win."
Happy birthday to Rashad McCants! Today (9/25/01) is his 17th birthday.