North Carolina coach Roy Williams and players from the 2005 national championship team deny they were involved with academic wrongdoing alleged by former teammate Rashad McCants.
In an interview with ESPN's "Outside the Lines," McCants - the team's second-leading scorer - said tutors wrote papers for him. He also said he believes Williams knew "100 percent" about players taking no-show classes popular with athletes in a department later linked to fraud in a long-running scandal.
"We had to run sprints for missing classes if we got caught, so you know, they were very aware of what was going on," McCants said, comparing it to movies in which athletes would "just show up and play."
In a statement Friday, Williams said he "strongly" disagreed with McCants' comments.
"In no way did I know about or do anything close to what he says and I think the players whom I have coached over the years will agree with me," Williams said. "I have spent 63 years on this earth trying to do things the right way and the picture he portrays is not fair to the University or me."
After flunking two classes in fall 2004, McCants said he met with Williams, who told him he could swap a failing grade from one class with a passing one from another to stay eligible.
McCants said Williams told him to "buckle down on your academics" and things would work out. The next semester, McCants said, he had As in four courses from the formerly named Department of African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) and made the Dean's List despite not attending classes.
He then entered the NBA draft as a junior. His sister, Rashanda, later played basketball for UNC and graduated in 2009.
In all, 18 of McCants' 28 college courses were in his AFAM major, with McCants earning As or Bs in 16 of those classes, according to ESPN.
McCants also said tutors provided him with test answers in some AFAM classes, and that teammates sometimes car-pooled to pick up already-written papers from tutors.
"For some of the premier players, we didn't write our papers," McCants said.
In a joint statement Friday, sixteen players from the 2005 team - including NBA players Raymond Felton and Marvin Williams, and Final Four Most Outstanding Player Sean May - defended their Hall of Fame coach.
"With conviction, each one of us is proud to say that we attended class and did our own academic work," the players said.
"In light of the comments made by Rashad on ESPN Outside the Lines, we want to state that our personal academic experiences are not consistent with Rashad's claims," they said. "We know that Coach Williams did not have any knowledge of any academic impropriety, and further that Coach Williams would not have tried to manipulate a player's schedule. Rashad will always be our teammate and we wish him well on all of his future endeavors."
McCants' allegations are the latest levied against UNC in an academic fraud scandal that began as an offshoot of an NCAA investigation into the football program in 2010. The findings included the lecture classes featuring significant athlete enrollments that did not meet and were instead treated as independent study courses requiring a research paper at semester's end, as well as unauthorized grade changes and possibly forged signatures on grade rolls.
Former UNC learning specialist Mary Willingham, who has questioned the literacy of Tar Heel athletes, has said "paper classes" helped keep athletes eligible despite many reading at below-grade levels. A university review reported in July 2012 that academic advisers referred athletes to those classes for enrollment, a charge McCants echoed.
A 2012 investigation led by former Gov. Jim Martin found fraud in the AFAM department dating to at least the late 1990s. While Martin found no evidence of athletic department involvement, another probe led by former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein is underway.
Previous investigations have directed blame at retired chairman Julius Nyang'oro, now facing a criminal charge in the case, and former administrator Deborah Crowder.
Neither cooperated with previous investigations, but Wainstein interviewed Crowder in March and Nyang'oro attorney Bill Thomas said in an email Friday night that his client is now cooperating, too. Thomas said Nyang'oro has met with Wainstein, though he did not say when.
In a statement Friday, Wainstein said McCants' comments are "directly relevant to our investigation."
"We have interviewed or attempted to interview a number of current and former UNC student-athletes and we have received valuable insights and information from those who have agreed to speak with us," said Wainstein, a partner in the Washington, D.C., law office of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP. "We would welcome the opportunity to speak to Mr. McCants or anybody else who can shed light on the issues we are investigating."
In an email Friday, NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn did not comment specifically about the UNC case. She pointed out that the Division I Leadership Council in April clarified that schools are responsible for monitoring academic misconduct and reporting it to the NCAA.
AP Sports Writer Michael Marot in Indianapolis contributed to this report.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap