Is UNC’s Rashad McCants The Next Denzel Washington?

People have come to expect the unpredictable and outrageous from Rashad McCants.

This is the former college basketball star that once said being at North Carolina was like being in jail, tattooed “Born To Be Hated” on one arm and “Dying To Be Loved” on the other, compared people understanding him to reading the bible and is currently living in Los Angeles and trying his hand in acting while he awaits another chance from an NBA team that may never come.But that still didn’t prepare people for this YouTube clip of the former NBA lottery pick that went viral last month:

Yeah, that just happened.

The last time McCants played professional basketball was last December when he had a three-game stint in the NBDL. That ended abruptly when McCants thought he had a shot at playing in the NBA again. But that fell through and McCants hasn’t played since, with no plans on ever going back to the D-League.

“I’m not a D-League player,” said McCants in his soft but defiant tone. “D-League is for developmental. There is nothing I need to develop in the NBA.”

So just how did a former NBA lottery pick that’s still just 26-years old end up starring in that clip and out of the league for almost two years?

The seeds were planted during his time in Chapel Hill. There, McCants was labeled a pariah for butting heads with former coach Matt Doherty, the aforementioned jail comment and the perception that he pouted and was aloof. A newspaper columnist called him “borderline psychotic” and there were nasty rumors that he was bipolar.

One problem he never had there? Scoring. He led the Tar Hills in points per game his first two seasons and as a junior in 2005, McCants was the second-leading scorer on the Heels’ national championship team.

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At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds with a sweet shot to boot, McCants had a great blend of size and skill but slid to the 14th pick of the 2005 NBA Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves because teams didn’t want to deal with his baggage.

Things got off to an inauspicious start when the rookie had dreaded microfracture surgery on his right knee, but McCants bounced back to blossom in his third year by leading the team in scoring with almost 15 PPG.

But by year four, he was benched as his shooting percentage plummeted and he was criticized for being a ball hog. Then came New Year’s Eve 2009, when McCants flew to Las Vegas on an off day to visit then-girlfriend Khloe Kardashian (now married to L.A. Lakers star Lamar Odom), returning the following day in time for a noon practice.

How do you think that went over in the locker room?

By February, he was shipped to Sacramento. And when the Kings selected fellow shooting guard Tyreke Evans that summer in the 2009 NBA Draft, McCants became an afterthought.

He hasn’t played in an NBA game since. If his time in college felt like jail, this must feel like exile as teams even in desperate need of a scorer (i.e. the Cleveland Cavaliers) still keep their distance.

McCants has been signed by several NBA teams in the last two years but never played in a game. His three-game stint in the NBDL a couple months ago ended abruptly when he announced he was going to play in China. But he balked at going to the Far East when he thought an NBA team was close to signing him. When that didn’t happen, he says the window to play in China had closed and he certainly wasn’t headed back to the D-League.

“The Development League is nothing but what my agent told me is a plea from the league saying, that ‘We want you to show humility to get back in (the NBA),’ ” McCants said.

If that was the goal, it didn’t work.

After initially saying he was better than 70-percent of the players in the NBA, McCants upped the ante after being told his agent thought the percentage was even higher.

“I was being modest saying 70-percent,” McCants said. “My honest opinion is 95-percent. I don’t even think there are top-tier All-Stars who are better than me, and they know who they are.”

McCants’ agent, E. Lindsey Maxwell, points out that playing in the D-League also comes with the risk of injury. And in fairness, it’s not McCants’ game that NBA general managers are questioning. But how will they react now that McCants has spit out the humble pie they tried to feed him?

Rashad McCants

The other strategy Maxwell and McCants had was meeting with as many front office executives and coaches as possible before the season to dispel the player’s bad reputation.

Said Maxwell: “Rashad is a very nice guy, he’s a very warm guy. He’s a competitive person and once you get to know him, you know he’s a great guy to be around.”

See also: College basketball coaches’ Top 10 infamous tempers

While fans might scoff at that comment, there is certainly another side to McCants that many people don’t see. He has his own charity foundation for at-risk youth called “Generation 1 Foundation” and started the “Shoot For the Cure Foundation” to fight breast cancer, which his mother was diagnosed with during his last year in Chapel Hill. When he started in the NBDL, McCants said he was going to donate his salary to charity.

And people might be surprised to hear that McCants says one of his best friends is still Wes Miller, the former UNC fan favorite McCants played with in high school.

Said Miller in a 2005 Sports Illustrated story: “If you have the privilege to be Rashad’s friend, you’ll find that he’s a great friend back.”

The problem is, McCants hasn’t made many in NBA locker rooms, where philanthropy doesn’t score you any points. In an ESPN The Magazine profile of McCants last year, former teammates of his including Kevin Love were critical of McCants’ demeanor, further cementing his reputation.

If McCants goes unsigned for the rest of this season, Maxwell says the two are prepared to do the “same song and dance” next offseason.

“I have no doubt that Rashad will be back in the NBA,” Maxwell said. “There’s no doubt about it. He is the best player right now who is not on a roster.”

But just because McCants isn’t playing professional basketball doesn’t mean he isn’t plenty busy.

Initially moving to Los Angeles a couple years ago to rehab an injury, he got into acting shortly afterward and now loves it out there. Currently, McCants spends his time in Southern California split between staying in shape for basketball, auditioning for acting roles and running his own production company, record label and management company.

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And he’s got at least one believer in Hollywood in his manager. You might have heard of him. His name’s Percy Miller, better known as “Master P,” and McCants says Miller has represented him since last summer.

“This is as deep of a brotherhood as it gets when it comes to P and me and everything that we’re doing,” McCants said.

“He actually helped me revamp my whole thinking of life and how to approach these situations when dealing with being excluded from everything. He’s really helped me in that aspect.”

As it turns out, McCants’ demeanor has actually worked to his advantage in acting, as people in Hollywood tell him he’s intimidating.

“They like that about me, that I can play boss roles and gangster roles,” McCants said.

And McCants certainly made a splash last month when the clip above made the rounds on the internet that also stars former adult film actress Traci Lords, as the blogosphere buzzed he was playing a bi-sexual, cross-dressing leader of a shoplifting ring.

But that wasn’t exactly accurate.

McCants says his character isn’t bi-sexual or a cross-dresser, just a villain that’s always doing the unexpected (sound familiar?). The clip was part of a pilot to a TV series called “The Booster Club” that is now being shopped around Hollywood with him as an executive producer and the show billed as “ ’The Wire’ meets ‘Weeds.’ ”

When asked for his favorite actor, McCants answers “Denzel Washington” without hesitation, who just-so-happened to also play a little college basketball of his own at Fordham.

“He’s the best,” McCants said. “I don’t want to follow anybody but the best. Whether that was Michael Jordan, that was Denzel Washington, that was Tupac Shakur. These are the guys I grew up wanting to be just like.”

And while his agent is convinced McCants will make it back to the league, with each passing month, people grow more and more skeptical McCants will ever be seen in an NBA uniform again – unless it’s part of an acting role.

One thing’s for sure: He isn’t going to grovel before NBA general managers to get back to where he thinks he belongs. And if this is in fact the end of the line for his basketball career, it also doesn’t appear McCants will lose any sleep over it.

“I can’t stress over it any more,” said McCants about his time out of the league.

“I’m not the kind of guy that basketball’s my only hope in life. I’m not that kind of human being, I’m not that kind of person to limit myself. So one door closes, another one opens.”

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