Archive for Sunday, March 30, 2003

Report: Players split over Doherty

March 30, 2003

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— His evaluation into men's basketball coach Matt Doherty almost complete, North Carolina athletics director Dick Baddour soon will become a jury of one and determine Doherty's fate for the 2003-04 season.

If the central issue were coaching ability, Doherty's return would be guaranteed.

Sources close to Baddour say he was impressed with Doherty's third season, in which the Tar Heels rebounded from their 8-20 campaign of a year ago to go 19-16 -- winning late-season games against Maryland and Duke and reaching the quarterfinals of the National Invitation Tournament.

The Tar Heels played 24 of their last 25 games without their only ACC-caliber inside presence, freshman center Sean May, who broke his foot Dec. 27. Doherty's first two seasons ran the gamut, from his debut in 2000-01 as national coach of the year to his 8-20 year.

Unfortunately for Doherty, the central issue is not coaching. Baddour is evaluating Doherty's relationships with his players, and to that end he spent Thursday and Friday meeting with players and, in some cases, their parents.

What Baddour has discovered, according to numerous sources close to the program, is a schism that appears to be drawn along the lines of playing time, although that line may be coincidental.

Published comments in recent weeks along with Observer conversations this week with players, parents and North Carolina staff members show the following Tar Heels are solidly behind Doherty, all of them starters: freshman point guard Raymond Felton, sophomore forward Jawad Williams, freshman forward David Noel and May.

The players with complaints are sophomore guards Melvin Scott, who started a few games at the end of the season, and Jackie Manuel, a starter most of the season; graduating senior guard Jonathan Holmes; and junior walk-on Philip McLamb, who played for Charlotte Country Day.

Manuel's father, who could be heard screaming at Doherty at the ACC tournament at Greensboro Coliseum two weeks ago, accompanied Manuel to his meeting Thursday with Baddour.

After the Tar Heels' season-ending loss Wednesday to Georgetown in the NIT, Scott indicated his dissatisfaction with Doherty. Asked if he planned to stay, he replied: "We've got to sit down and make some decisions about what's best for the program."

In another part of the locker room, Felton said he was tired of the rumors of locker-room discord and said he wanted to play "for no other coach."

The only member of the regular rotation whose feelings about Doherty remain unclear is freshman Rashad McCants, who had sniped at Doherty early in the season when he was benched because of poor defensive effort. Since returning to the lineup, McCants has been noncommittal regarding his position on most things related to UNC basketball.

After last season, Williams and his mother, Gail, were among Doherty's most vocal critics. Williams threatened to transfer, and referred to the team's decision-making process as a "dictatorship."

In recent weeks, Williams has been a vocal supporter of Doherty in postgame interviews, and his mother reiterated that position Friday.

"I think they've grown to understand each other," she said of Doherty and her son. "The only side I'm on is my son's. If he's happy, I'm happy, and if he's happy I think the other kids will follow."

Asked if Jawad was happy with Doherty, Gail Williams said, "I think he is happy. He really is."

Felton's father, Raymond, told The Charlotte Observer his son has improved "beyond my expectations" from October to March.

Noel's mother, Sheila, told The Charlotte Observer, "David doesn't have a problem with coach Doherty -- not that I've heard about."

Kansas University coach Roy Williams has been suggested to be North Carolina's top choice as a replacement if Doherty is fired. Williams was courted by UNC, his alma mater, in the summer of 2000 but chose to remain at Kansas. Williams was an assistant for ex-Tar Heel coach Dean Smith from 1978-88.

Williams was asked about the possibility of leaving KU for North Carolina Friday in Anaheim, Calif., where the Jayhawks were playing in the NCAA West Regional, and he denied interest in the job.

Meanwhile, a faction of the Education Foundation -- the fund-raising arm of UNC athletics -- is pushing Baddour to retain Doherty.

"I'd say a majority of the Education Foundation wants to see Doherty continue as coach," said Hickory's Tom Shores, a member of the foundation's executive committee. "He deserves another year, no question about it. He's recruited good players and deserves to coach them."

If retained, Doherty might not be the only UNC alumnus on the staff. Two assistants -- Doug Wojcik with Wright State and Bob McKinnon with Elon -- are in the hunt for head coaching vacancies.

If either leaves, sources say, Doherty will offer Phil Ford, North Carolina's career scoring leader and a former assistant coach, a job on the Tar Heels' staff.

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