McCants mentally ready for '03-'04

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Rashad McCants has changed. The enforcer on Carolina's powerful starting lineup did something somewhat out of character in the Tar Heels' last exhibition game.

After a nasty reverse dunk against Nike Elite that electrified the home crowd, he simply ran up court and got back into defensive position. There was no fist to the chest, no baseline pose or even his trademark "X" with the ball inside his arms.

By no means has McCants ever been a boorish showboat, and fans loved the stuff. Perhaps more than any one Carolina player in recent memory, he lets his confidence in his game do the talking for him.

But UNC coach Roy Williams did have a sitdown with his brash sophomore guard-forward. Williams said he didn't like those kinds of things especially if it's putting down someone else.

He also suggested that if McCants was going to draw attention to himself like that, "then do the same daggum thing when you screw up. If you want to draw individual attention to yourself, then when you turn it over, I expect you to beat on your chest and do those things as well," Williams said.

On a team that boasts arguably the ACC's best point guard and two of its best post players, McCants may the baddest of them all. He immediately stepped on the court that way when he started his UNC career with 28 points – the most ever by a UNC freshman in his debut – on 11-of-14 shooting versus Penn State last year. He was perfect from 3-point range, had seven rebounds and two steals and zero turnovers.

"It was a mental readiness for college basketball," McCants said. "Playing prep school really prepared me for college and I wasn't surprised about any kind of positioning or any kind of playing style, and I was just in there ready to play."

The Tar Heels were 8-4 when McCants scored 20 or more points. He finished seventh in the ACC in scoring (17.0 points per game), fourth in field goal percentage (.491) and fifth in 3-point field goal percentage (.414).

But as refreshing as was the immediate confidence he brought to a rebuilding team, he also appeared distant at times last season. A perceived unhappiness during the season put him squarely in the middle of a remarkable turn of events that ended in the forced resignation of Matt Doherty, which subsequently opened the door for UNC to tempt Williams one more decisive time.

"There has been a lot of attention from fans, media and everybody about his emotionalism and enthusiasm," Williams said. "When things are going well he's happy and he's pouting when things are going poorly. We've addressed those issues with him, and he is trying extremely hard what we want him to do. He's trying to understand what highs and lows are going to do for you."

"Coach Doherty helped me move along and mature as much as anybody has," added McCants. "Sure, we had our egos and we had our differences."

Now two seasons of discontent that produced a combined 27-36 win-loss mark and shattered records, the likes of which may never be seen again, appear safely locked away in the past. McCants was around for the last one and doesn't want to experience that much losing ever again.

"It wasn't a difficult year, just frustrating," McCants said. "There is nothing to point out and say this is what made me feel pressure, it was just part of being a freshman and the expectations.

"Coming into the ACC – one of the best conferences in basketball – it's a big adjustment. Then starting 20-plus games, and adjusting to coaching and the college lifestyle…from high school to college is a big adjustment."

A severe thigh bruise hampered McCants in early practice sessions, prompting Williams to note how far he was getting behind. However McCants' performance in the Tar Heels final exhibition game – particularly in the second half –demonstrated he has done a lot of catching up.

"I knew he was extremely gifted and I still feel that way," Williams said. "We're making some strides."

Also see: Jawad: ‘What it takes to win' - May: ‘I'm 110-percent' - Noel: ‘It's been a wild ride' - Felton: ‘The Carolina blood in me' - Manuel: ‘As long as we win'

Inside Carolina Top Stories