RALEIGH, N.C. -- North Carolina State's new basketball coach, Les Robinson, is opening his wallet to help former Wolfpack players who completed their careers without receiving a degree.

He is negotiating a shoe contract and says he'll contribute some of his earnings to a scholarship fund to pay for the education of former basketball players who want to come back to finish their degree work.

He said he plans to give about $50,000 to the fund over the next three years and he will ask the shoe company with which he signs to participate independently. He said he is negotiating with Adidas, Converse, L.A. Gear and Nike.

"I just wanted to give something back to the school and to some of these guys," said Robinson, a 1965 N.C. State graduate and former Wolfpack player. "It's not really meant to create a lot of fanfare, but I wanted to help because these are the people who have contributed so much to this program."

One of the major criticisms of his predecessor, Jim Valvano, was the low graduation rate of his players. University of North Carolina system president C.D. "Dick" Spangler reported last August that 32 percent of Valvano's signees since 1980 had graduated from N.C. State or other universities.

Valvano was forced out in April after investigations into the Wolfpack program found, among other things, that players generally did not perform well in the classroom.

Though details of the scholarship fund have not been completed and it is not yet officially established, Robinson already has a taker: Former DeMatha star Hawkeye Whitney, who played at N.C. State in 1977-80 and is the third-leading scorer in school history, plans to enroll this fall.

"This gives us a sense that there's someone out there who cares and wants us to come back and get our education," Whitney said.

He said he is 34 hours short of a degree in vocational industrial education.