ST. LOUIS- Choosing a go-to guy on most college basketball teams can be a difficult task.
In an NCAA tournament filled with desperation threes and overtime magic, there’s been ample opportunity for many players to taste heroism.
The last second shot has become nearly as common as the opening tip-off in college basketball. And go-to guys seem to change from game to game.
“It’s tough to pick one go-to guy,” Louisville guard Taquan Dean said. “Any one of us will take that shot at any given time.”
But that’s not the case at North Carolina.
“Rashad McCants wants to be the playmaker,” Tar Heels senior Charlie Everett said. “He has the fire; and he wants to make that shot.”
North Carolina isn’t exactly at a loss for stars. Marvin Williams and Sean May are projected lottery picks in the upcoming NBA draft. Point guard Raymond Felton was a third-team AP All-American and first-team all-ACC.
“It’s hard to pick one player (on North Carolina) who worries me,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “It’s like, ‘Pick your poison, which way do you want to go, lethal injection or electric chair?’”
But there’s something different about McCants, something that caused teammate after teammate to profess confidence in his ability to take that deciding shot.
“He can hit any shot, anytime in the game,” sophomore Jesse Holley said. “Everybody’s confident when he has the ball in his hands.”
His individuality is evident the instant his team takes the floor.
As the Tar Heels jogged onto the court before practice on Friday, McCants trailed seconds behind the rest of the team.
As the team starts its shoot around, most of the players surround the basket. May and Felton start with 5-footers, gradually extending out to the free-throw line and beyond.
Meanwhile, McCants lurks just a few feet in front of the half-court line, calmly tossing up 30-footers as if he were standing at the 3-point line.
He has never been one to hang back from a challenge. McCants said the desire to be the go-to player is something that’s been with him all his life.
“It’s something that can’t be taught,” he said. “You’ve gotta be born with it.
“I always felt that my responsibility as a basketball player was to have everything on my shoulders.”
McCants hit his first winning shot when he was a junior in high school.
It was just the beginning of a career filled with winning shots.
“It’s been that way for Rashad for a long time,” teammate C.J. Hooker said. “He’s been put in that situation many times and he has confidence in himself that he can hit any shot any time at any point in the game.”
But it doesn’t always go that way.
It was March 20, 2004, and North Carolina was down 78-75 against Texas in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
McCants had the ball just where he wanted it: in his hands. As the clock expired, he rolled the ball off his fingertips and up into the air.
This time, it sailed over the basket. North Carolina’s season was over.
McCants said missing shots like that one doesn’t diminish his desire to shoot the ball at the end of the game.
“It’s just something you have to live with,” he said.
It’s something that McCants has chosen to live with. He has taken it upon himself to be the go-to player on an elite team that plays in the national spotlight, in a sport where yesterday’s heroes become tomorrow’s scapegoats.
Maybe it would be easier, as most teams do, to share the responsibility of taking a last-second shot.
But the Tar Heels know where to put the ball at the end of the game.