Carter gets his diploma

Vince Carter had no problem finding work after graduation.

The Toronto star squeezed in attending graduation ceremonies at North Carolina before Sunday's Game 7 of the Raptors' playoff series with the Philadelphia 76ers -- and left himself open to criticism about whether the last-minute travel was a distraction.

Carter, who left school for the NBA after his junior year in 1998, completed his final correspondence course this summer and earned his degree in Afro-American studies.

He was recognized with the rest of North Carolina's Class of 2001, but left the ceremonies early to catch a flight to Philadelphia.

"This is a special time for me, an important time for me," Carter said. "Now that this day is here, I'm feeling better and better about it. This is something I had to do for me, regardless of what other people say about it, because it's something I wanted to do, something I had to do.

"It's something I'm going to accomplish on top of playing in Game 7 and I think I'm mentally prepared for both."

Carter flew to North Carolina on team owner Larry Tanenbaum's private plane and arrived at the campus about 8:30 a.m. After signing autographs and taking pictures outside the ceremony at Kenan Stadium, he walked out with the rest of the students.

Carter, wearing sunglasses and the traditional Carolina blue academic regalia, sat next to North Carolina basketball players Brendan Haywood and Max Owens and football player Cam Holland.

The crowd did not respond when Carter walked onto the stage with the rest of the graduates, but it let out a huge roar when UNC Board of Governors chairman Benjamin S. Ruffin acknowledged Carter's presence and congratulated him for making the effort to be there.

About 20 minutes into the nearly two-hour ceremony, Carter got up, high-fived Haywood and was whisked away to Tanenbaum's waiting jet for the flight to Philadelphia. He missed most of the speeches, including ESPN sportscaster Stuart Scott's commencement speech, and was not there for the ceremonial turning of the tassel.

Carter arrived in Philadelphia after noon, about five hours before game time.

Coach Len Wilkens warned Carter about the possible criticism if he played poorly in Game 7.

Teammates Antonio Davis and Chris Childs issued terse no comments when asked about Carter's plans, although others said they had no problem.

Carter did not actually get his diploma Sunday. North Carolina undergraduates do not receive them during graduation ceremonies, and Carter will receive his in the mail, university spokeswoman Karen Moon said.

Scott, a 1987 North Carolina graduate, made reference to Carter's attendance and said he supported Carter's decision to attend the ceremony.