Montross on UNC problems: 'We have to deal with it'
By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY - Eric Montross, once a University of North Carolina basketball star and now a school fundraiser and basketball analyst, predicted UNC will bounce back from revelations of academic misconduct among student athletes. "When something's wrong, we have to deal with it," Montross said at a meeting of the Salisbury Kiwanis Club Friday. Despite the recent problems, and UNC's being in the news for all the wrong reasons, Montross said, "so much about that place is right." It's most upsetting, he added, because academic integrity is supposed to be the cornerstone of the university. The hits have kept coming for UNC. The NCAA has punished the football program by eliminating scholarships, putting it on probation for three years and levying a post-season bowl ban. The punishment follows revelations of academic fraud in one department, improper benefits for football players and academic misconduct related to a tutor. There were forged signatures on grades, poorly overseen independent study courses for athletes and problems in the African and Afro-American Studies Department with many "no-show classes." Most recently, the university's biggest fundraiser, Matt Kupec, resigned over personal travel expenses he charged to UNC during trips he made with Tami Hansbrough, also a school fundraiser and mother of former UNC All-America basketball player Tyler Hansbrough. The controversies led to UNC's firing of football coach Butch Davis, while Kupec, Tami Hansbrough, Athletic Director Dick Baddour and Chancellor Holden Thorp have resigned or their departures are imminent. The university has asked former Gov. Jim Martin and a consulting firm to conduct a review looking for any other academic irregularities. Montross said the school is taking the matter seriously. "Through adversity, we find out more about ourselves," he said. Montross predicted good things for new head football coach Larry Fedora, He described Fedora "as engaged a head coach as we have on campus" and "an outstanding man." With Fedora, the school is guaranteed of having a program "done the right way," Montross said. Montross otherwise spent much of his visit Friday on lighter subjects, fielding questions from his Kiwanis audience, handing out Carolina door prizes and getting digs in with N.C. State and Duke fans in the crowd. Enthusiastic Carolina booster and graduate Ronnie Smith said Montross' visit to Kiwanis was "one of the greatest days of my life." As he introduced the 7-foot Montross, Smith stood on a chair. "Now I'm up to your level," Smith told him. Smith also presented Montross with Salisbury tokens such as Cheerwine, "Food Lion Kiwanis Pancake Syrup" and a can of Dole pineapples, in recognition of Salisbury native Elizabeth Dole. In the audience was Montross' "Aunt Cindy" Rentz, who is a resident at the Lutheran Home at Trinity Oaks. Rentz is the aunt of Montross' wife, Laura, who attended West Davidson High School. The couple met, Montross said, when he was a freshman at UNC. They have two children, 12 and 14. Montross will turn 41 Sunday. Established in 1920, the Salisbury Kiwanis Club is one of the oldest Kiwanis organizations in the country. In capsule form, here are some other topics Montross addressed Friday: • On basketball Coach Roy Williams' recent surgery to remove a tumor on his kidney - "He's at home. I think the prognosis is really good. Where he is now, he's probably feeling a lot better." • On former Coach Dean Smith, who in recent years has lost some of his memory to dementia - "It's difficult for us who remember what a great mind he had, (but) Coach Smith is still Coach Smith." • Montross said he was proud that he stayed all four years at UNC. After his junior season, Smith told him if he entered the draft he likely would be a Top 10 pick. But Montross interrupted Smith - the first time he recalled doing that, he said - and told the coach he loved the campus and academic environment at UNC. "I could never leave Carolina early," he said. "You go to school to go to school." • Expanding on that point, Montross said a college student grows so much over four years and makes important friendships for a lifetime. Also, on the basketball side of things, Montross spoke of the importance for drafted players of leaving college with a higher understanding of the game. "That step is a huge step," said Montross, who played for six National Basketball Association teams. • On the expansion of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Montross said there always is a sentiment, no matter what era, to keep the conference makeup the same. But in today's environment, conferences can't do that and survive, he said. Fans need to embrace the kind of change that will benefit schools in the existing conference, he said. • One bad by-product of bigger conferences, Montross said, is the loss in basketball of home-and-home matchups against many longtime rivals. Those schools might end up playing only one time a year, for example. "It's tough to see that kind of diluted," Montross said. • No narrative or television documentary can do complete justice to the UNC basketball rivalry with Duke University, Montross said. "It's a national rivalry," he said. "... It's a magnificent thing." • Montross said Dean Smith personally recruited him in high school in Indiana. One summer day the coach showed up at his high school gymnasium unannounced, causing quite a stir among his friends. Phil Ford also was involved in Montross' recruitment. • Smith's genius - a Montross-led team won the national championship in 1993 - lay in his meticulous planning for practices and games and the ability to deliver instructions to players in a digestible way, Montross said. "He was a master of preparation," Montross added. "... We believed with every ounce of our soul that we were going to win."• As for this coming season's UNC basketball team, Montross described it as "really young" and the kind of team fans should enjoy watching as they progress. He predicted the Tar Heels will take their lumps first on their way to bonding and developing a good chemistry. Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.