Hairston, McDonald still in limbo as UNC prepares for Kentucky

acarter@newsobserver.comDecember 12, 2013 

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— Back when there was more optimism surrounding the return of North Carolina guard P.J. Hairston, the Tar Heels’ game against Kentucky – then still far off – represented something of a dividing line.

It was expected then that Hairston, twice caught driving rental cars tied to a convicted felon, would miss at least the eight games that preceded the one against Kentucky, which UNC will host Saturday. Yet some were hopeful that Hairston’s suspension would be over just in time for his return against the Wildcats.

Hairston, though, is not likely to be back for Kentucky, as a popular parody video on YouTube – mimicking the Daft Punk song “Get Lucky” – predicted he might be. Neither is Leslie McDonald, another guard who is the Tar Heels’ only scholarship senior.

Instead, both are expected to miss their ninth consecutive game amid NCAA eligibility concerns. Coach Roy Williams suggested Thursday that a resolution for Hairston and McDonald might come later rather than sooner.

“I would be stunned if I were to go upstairs and somebody would say those guys are eligible to (play) today,” Williams said.

Any news whatsoever might be equally stunning at this point, given the uncertainty continues to drag on. Williams spoke with confidence before the season that Hairston’s case would be resolved before the first game. At that point, he didn’t express any concern about McDonald’s status.

Since then, the situation became more complicated. A reporter asked Williams if in his opinion the case was still “just kind of hanging in the wind.”

“That’s your terminology, not mine,” he said. “I’m sure that the NCAA would like for it to be over with, too. But there’s no update. There’s nothing else. We’re just staying the course and I’m sure they’re trying to do everything they can, too.”

Questions about whether Hairston and McDonald received impermissible benefits – and the value of those benefits – have followed them since the summer. Hairston on at least two occasions drove rental cars that have been connected to Haydn “Fats” Thomas, a Durham resident and convicted felon.

Hairston was arrested in Durham on June 5 and charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession and driving without license – two charges that were later dropped – while driving a rented 2013 GMC Yukon. In May, he received a speeding ticket while driving a rented Chevrolet Camaro.

McDonald, meanwhile, wore a designer mouth guard in at least one game last season, and he appeared in advertising promoting Iceberg Guards, the mouth guard company. His appearance on Iceberg’s website prompted UNC to send to a cease and desist letter to the company, ordering it to remove McDonald.

Officials at UNC haven’t often commented on the cases, and haven’t explained why they continue to drag on. One explanation could be that the NCAA already decided Hairston and McDonald’s fate, and that UNC is appealing that decision. Such a scenario might explain the delay.

Regardless, Williams said there was no update. Asked if he was still confident that he’d coach Hairston this season, Williams said he still has “the same thought” that he will coach him in a game.

“(I’m) just trying not to waste my time thinking about that,” he said.

Lengthy NCAA investigations aren’t uncommon – in broader probes into entire athletic departments or teams and in smaller investigations involving one or two individuals. If a school appeals an NCAA ruling, a case would take even longer to be decided.

Myck Kabongo, a former guard at Texas, missed more than half of last season after the NCAA began investigating his relationship with an agent. The NCAA originally ruled that Kabango be suspended for the entire season, but after an appeal he returned in mid-February and played in the Longhorns’ final 11 games.

Williams said he has spoken with Rick Barnes, the Texas coach, about how he handled the uncertainty that surrounded Kabango last season.

“We’ve talked, yes,” Williams said. “And it’s tough. You don’t know. But it’s what it is. … You’ve got to go with who can play. That’s really what it is. And you guys – I think I told you this in the press conference (after the victory against Louisville on Nov. 24).

“At one point, I thought my team was worried about (Hairston and McDonald). And then I had to say, ‘Hey guys – let’s play. Don’t be concerned about what’s going to happen or anything. We’ve got to play right now.’”

Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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