In a 35-minute, on-camera interview Saturday that was attended by 11 former UNC basketball players as a show of support, Williams said the experiences McCants shared did not match what he knows about his players' academic efforts and records and the basketball program he oversees.
"Every one of those players that are sitting over there and every player I've had make me feel like they did their work, and we emphasize that and we push them towards that all the time," Williams said.
Several former players who attended the interview but did not wish to speak on camera echoed Williams' points and vehemently disagreed with McCants' allegations and descriptions of being an athlete at UNC.
The Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer reported Saturday evening that McCants was not the only member of the 2005 team who relied on the bogus classes. The newspaper said that data it had obtained show that "five members of that team, including at least four key players, accounted for a combined 39 enrollments in classes that have been identified as confirmed or suspected lecture classes that never met." No player earned less than a B in any of the enrollments, according to the report.
In his ESPN interview, Williams did not directly answer a question about McCants' allegation that he believed Williams knew "100 percent" about the sham or paper-class system at UNC. Those classes, in the African-American studies program and popular with athletes, did not require students to attend class but did require one term paper to be submitted by semester's end.
"First of all, how does anybody know what somebody else believes, but I know what I believe," Williams said, before discussing his understanding of what the so-called paper classes were. "I thought that meant that a class was on paper but it didn't really exist, and then come to find out people are using that terminology 'paper classes' to signify independent study courses that you do papers. ... I've been told by people that some of those are really, really good. It shows a lot of discipline because you're self-directed. If my players took independent study courses that were offered by this university for a reason that the university thought they were valuable, my players, if they took those courses, did the work, and I'm proud of that part of it."
McCants also had told "Outside the Lines" that he was possibly headed toward ineligibility during the 2004-05 national championship season because he had failed algebra and psychology, which accounted for half his credits, in the fall of 2004. He had two A's in African-American studies classes in addition to the F's.
He said Williams informed him of his academic troubles during a meeting ahead of the spring semester, telling him, "We're going to be able to change a class from, you know, your summer session class and swap it out with the class that you failed, just so the GPA could reflect that you are in good standing."
McCants, who declined to comment Saturday, ended up in four African-American studies classes the following semester, earning straight A's. He said he didn't know what Williams was getting at with the summer school class replacement reference and that he never talked with Williams about it again. McCants' academic transcript, obtained by "Outside the Lines," shows he received one A in an African-American studies class in the summer of 2004.
Williams adamantly denied Saturday that he ever discussed swapping any classes with McCants; further, he said he did not recall such a meeting "at all."
"I don't have any idea what swapping out would be," Williams said. "That's not in my vocabulary. You can't take a course and get another one thrown out at the college level. All of your courses count. So I know I would not have that kind of conversation. I don't know what swapping out means, and I have never suggested that anybody take any course."
Williams did say that if a player were having academic trouble, he probably would talk with the player: "That's part of my job." But he repeatedly said he and his staff have drawn lines they don't cross when it comes to players' academics.
"We have a very defined system here at the University of North Carolina," he said. "I have somewhat control over the basketball program. I don't have control over the academic side. But the academic side and our athletic director and our president want me to emphasize that academic side every single day, and they want our players to understand that. ...
"They want us to be concerned and to emphasize it but they don't want us to step over to the academic side. They don't want that to happen."
McCants' allegations mirror and amplify many of those first made public in 2011, when the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer began to report about widespread academic fraud at UNC. The scandal has centered on the African-American studies classes many athletes took in order to remain eligible.
The newspaper reported in December 2012 that basketball players on the 2004-05 national championship team accounted for 15 enrollments in the classes. A UNC internal investigation found that 54 classes in the department of African and African-American studies were either "aberrant" or "irregularly" taught from summer 2007 to summer 2011. That investigation went back to only 2007.
Williams, who got emotional at one point in Saturday's interview, said the past two years have "been the hardest time" of his career.
"Your integrity has been questioned," he said. "Some things have happened that shouldn't have happened. I tell the kids all the time, 'You're accountable, you're responsible.' ... I feel like that my university, my basketball program, my school has had a tough time and in some ways has been attacked, and that's not easy."
Mary Willingham, a former UNC learning specialist who often is described as a whistleblower about the UNC academic fraud scandal, told "Outside the Lines" she believes McCants' allegations.
"What he is saying absolutely lines up with what I have found: tutors writing papers for players, and advisers and tutors steering players to AFAM," she said. "I think the coaches knew about the paper-class system. Of course they did."
Former basketball players Wes Miller, Sean May, Damion Grant, Marvin Williams, Wayne Ellington, Byron Sanders, Jackie Manuel, Bobby Frasor and Tyler Hansbrough said after the Williams interview that they had the utmost respect for Williams and his actions, and that their experiences with McCants as a teammate and fellow student differed markedly from what McCants has described.
The players, who spoke passionately about Williams and against the allegations, called McCants a "loner" on and off the court. They said they wrote their own papers and were never steered to any courses by Williams or the coaching staff (McCants had alleged it was academic advisers who did the steering). They deemed simply untrue the McCants allegations that players went to study sessions together after their freshman year or that they went by car in groups to pick up papers written for them by tutors.
Williams said of McCants' allegation that tutors wrote his papers: "I have no idea. I don't sit in the classroom. I don't turn in their papers, but I find that impossible for me to believe."
Williams said he and his staff didn't steer players to courses. When asked his thoughts on McCants' allegation that academic advisers steered players to the AFAM courses and paper classes, he did not address the athletic department or academic advisers but said: "I've never steered any player towards any area. ... What it means to me is you tell a guy, 'You should major in this,' and I've never done that, none of my coaches have ever done that."
A copy of McCants' university transcript, labeled "unofficial" and obtained by "Outside the Lines," shows that in his non-African-American studies classes, McCants received six C's, one D and three F's. In his African-American studies classes, his grades were 10 A's, six B's, one C and one D. The UNC registrar's office declined to send McCants an official, signed transcript because of a May 2005 hold on its release. According to the UNC athletic department, McCants had university property that had never been returned.
McCants, who said it was common for basketball players to major in African-American studies, told "Outside the Lines" that he assumed tutors writing papers for athletes was to be expected and he didn't question it while he attended UNC.
Williams said Saturday that the players he has talked with wrote their own papers and took their academics seriously.
"I know what kind of individual they are," he said. "It's the kind of individual we want to recruit. I trust them. I'm very proud of them. They've known since day one, first day I walked in, that it's expected of them, and they're the kind of kids that expect it of themselves."
McCants left UNC after his third year and played four seasons in the NBA before moving to play overseas. In the 90-minute "Outside the Lines" interview conducted last month, McCants said he is planning to write a book about his basketball and collegiate experience.
McCants played as a freshman for coach Matt Doherty, who resigned under pressure and was succeeded by Williams in April 2003. McCants led the ACC in scoring his sophomore year and was the second-leading scorer his junior year as the Tar Heels won the national title. Still, he often was described as mercurial and enigmatic. In one local TV interview that ended up drawing national media coverage, McCants angered the basketball program's fans by equating UNC with being in jail: "You're not allowed to do certain things, you're not allowed to say certain things." He later said his statements were misinterpreted.
Williams said that over the years, he has thought fondly of McCants: "Like every player, we would have some differences on or off the court."
He said he has no idea why McCants made the allegations about his academics at UNC.
"That's really been hard to figure out," Williams said. "But it's evident that he's not happy. So as a coach, and especially a coach who has probably thin skin like I do, it's hurtful, it's harmful, it makes you think, but I have no idea. ...
"He's part of our family. He was extremely important to some success we had, but it's almost like he's trying to divorce himself away from what went on here."
Reporter Steve Delsohn and producer Dave Lubbers of ESPN's Enterprise and Investigative Unit contributed to this report.
Roy Williams Bothered By Allegations
North Carolina men's basketball coach Roy Williams responds to allegations of academic fraud made by former player Rashad McCants.