UNC's P.J. Hairston will not return to Tar Heels

acarter@newsobserver.comDecember 20, 2013 

  • P.J. Hairston Timeline

    •  March 24 – UNC ends the 2012-13 season with a 70-58 loss against Kansas in the NCAA tournament. P.J. Hairston averages a team-high 14.6 points per game.

    •  April 12 – Hairston announces his decision to return to UNC for his junior season instead of entering the NBA draft.

    •  May 13 – Hairston receives a speeding ticket while driving a 2012 rented Chevrolet Camaro, which had been paid for by Catinia Farrington. She shares an address with Haydn “Fats” Thomas, a Durham resident, felon and local party promoter.

    •  June 4 – Hairston and two passengers – Carlos Sanford and Miykael Faulcon, a basketball player at Elizabeth City State – are charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession at a checkpoint in Durham. Hairston, also charged with driving without a license, was driving a rented 2013 GMC Yukon, paid for by Thomas. A handgun is found near the checkpoint, where the Yukon stopped before proceeding, but police don't identify the owner of the gun, and it’s not associated with Hairston or anyone else in the car. Hairston’s charges are later dropped.

    •  July 28 – A state Highway Patrol officer clocks Hairston going 93 mph in a 65 mph zone outside of Salisbury. Hairston was driving a friend’s car. Hairston is charged with speeding and reckless driving. Hours later, UNC coach Roy Williams suspends Hairston indefinitely.

    •  Sept. 27 – UNC begins preseason practice. Hairston is allowed to participate in practice, but not in games.

    •  Nov. 8 – UNC begins the season with an 84-61 victory against Oakland. Hairston and Leslie McDonald, a senior guard, sit out.

    •  Dec. 18 – The NCAA clears McDonald to return. He missed nine games. Because he received impermissible benefits, he is ordered to repay $1,783 to a charity of his choice before the end of the regular season.

    •  Dec. 20 – UNC announces it will not seek to reinstate Hairston, ending his UNC career.

    Andrew Carter

— After an investigation that spanned months, the case against P.J. Hairston was so strong that UNC-Chapel Hill decided against seeking his reinstatement from the NCAA. As a result, Hairston, a junior guard who last season led UNC in scoring, has played his final game with the Tar Heels.

Hairston sat out UNC’s first 10 games amid a joint school and NCAA investigation into his receipt of impermissible benefits. All along, coach Roy Williams and athletic director Bubba Cunningham had expressed hope that Hairston would play this season.

That optimism disappeared in recent days, and Cunningham said that after a lengthy investigation, UNC decided Tuesday that it would not seek Hairston’s reinstatement. The school announced its decision Friday.

Williams on Friday described the Hairston saga as “probably the most difficult and saddest thing I’ve ever gone through as a head coach.”

Williams acknowledged that Hairston brought about his own consequences.

“All of us in life pay for our actions,” Williams said. “And these are some very difficult consequences that he’s paid for his actions.”

Cunningham on Friday declined to detail the exact monetary value of the benefits Hairston received, but those benefits – particularly the use of luxury rental cars – are believed to be worth several thousand dollars.

“We’ve all been hopeful the entire time that he would be able to play again,” Cunningham said. “But by the time we gathered all the information and worked with the NCAA, it just wasn’t there.”

The 6-6, 220-pound Hairston led the Tar Heels in scoring last season with 14.6 points per game.

The NCAA on Wednesday cleared Leslie McDonald, another UNC guard, after determining that he had received nearly $2,000 in impermissible benefits – most of them stemming from his use of rental cars connected to Haydn “Fats” Thomas, a Durham resident and felon who came to know McDonald and other athletes, Hairston included, through the local party scene. The NCAA does not allow student-athletes to receive gifts from anyone they didn’t know previously.

McDonald had missed UNC’s first nine games.

In the reinstatement request UNC submitted to the NCAA on behalf of McDonald, the university detailed McDonald’s use of cars associated with Thomas. UNC officials wrote that another UNC men’s basketball player whose name was redacted – presumably Hairston – drove some of the cars three times as often as McDonald did.

UNC valued McDonald’s use of the cars – a 2009 Porsche Cayenne, a 2012 Chevrolet Camaro, a 2013 Mercedes and a 2008 Audi A4 – at more than $1,500. In the reinstatement request for McDonald, UNC wrote that McDonald and another UNC’s men’s basketball player – presumably Hairston – had access to the Camaro, the Mercedes and the Audi.

McDonald’s impermissible benefits also included lodging, the use of a mouth guard and the receipt of a used iPhone. Cunningham on Friday didn’t directly answer questions about whether Hairston’s benefits went beyond cars, and about whether Hairston had been truthful with investigators.

“It was really just all the information that we gathered, we just didn’t think that we had grounds to seek reinstatement after collaboration (and) cooperation with the NCAA,” Cunningham said.

The announcement Friday provided finality to a case that had dragged on for months. Williams expressed hope in September that Hairston’s case would be resolved before the season began, and recently had maintained confidence that he would coach Hairston again.

“But the last couple of weeks, guys, have just been horrible for everybody,” Williams said.

Neither Williams nor Cunningham detailed what exactly changed in recent weeks. Over time, though, Hairston’s case become more dire, and it became clear, to Cunningham, at least, that requesting his reinstatement wouldn’t be an option.

The impermissible benefits cases involving Hairston and McDonald are another stain for a UNC athletic department that has had several problems in recent years. Since 2010, UNC has seemingly had to deal with one scandal after the next, starting with the impermissible benefits and academic fraud cases in football that led to NCAA violations. That case is still ongoing, in a sense, given the state recently indicted five people on charges they violated the state’s agent laws.

Earlier this month, former African studies department chairman Julius Nyang'oro was indicted on a felony charge of obtaining property by false pretenses in connection with no-show classes tied to UNC athletes.

Though Hairston will no longer play for UNC, he continued Friday to practice with the team. While he was on the court at the Smith Center, his family released a statement in which it criticized UNC’s decision not to seek reinstatement.

“We are displeased with the University of North Carolina’s decision not to submit the necessary paperwork to the NCAA requesting to have P.J. reinstated,” the Hairston family said in its statement. “This process has been long, and for (it) to end without having a final decision from the governing body is a shame.”

It is unclear what Hairston’s next step will be. Cunningham said that Hairston could remain a part of the team, even though he’s not allowed to play. Hairston could also decide to leave school and begin preparing for the NBA draft. In the statement, Hairston’s family said he would reach a decision “within the next few weeks.”

Hairston’s eligibility concerns first arose over the summer, when on June 4 he was arrested in Durham while driving a rented 2013 GMC Yukon that had been paid for by Thomas. Hairston in May also received a speeding ticket while driving a rented 2012 Chevrolet Camaro that had been paid for by Catinia Farrington, who shares a Durham address with Thomas.

UNC concluded that between April and June, McDonald had secondary access to the vehicles that Thomas provided. UNC and the NCAA agreed that primary access to the vehicles belonged to Miykael Faulcon, an Elizabeth City State basketball player from Durham, and the UNC player whose name was redacted in McDonald’s reinstatement request.

The Associated Press reported Friday that Bill Thomas, a Durham-based attorney for Fats Thomas, said his client met with school officials Dec. 10 for “an in-depth interview … to clear up any misconception about the relationship between Haydn Thomas and Mr. Hairston.” Bill Thomas said he invited NCAA officials “but they elected not to participate.”

Faulcon was a passenger in the Yukon that Hairston drove on the night of his arrest. Hairston, Faulcon and another passenger, Carlos Sanford, were all charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession, and Hairston was charged with driving without a license. His charges were later dropped.

Hairston, a native of Greensboro, found trouble again in late July. The state highway patrol stopped Hairston on July 28 outside of Salisbury after an officer clocked him going 93 mph in a 65 mph zone. According to the citation, Hairston had been weaving in and out of heavy traffic. Hairston then was charged with reckless driving and speeding.

Hours after that stop, Williams suspended Hairston indefinitely. When UNC began preseason practice, though, Hairston was allowed to participate.

Since then, he had been practicing with the team but not traveling with the Tar Heels for road games. During home games, Hairston has watched from the bench, usually wearing a dark suit.

Cunningham said that on Wednesday, before UNC’s loss against Texas, he told Hairston and his mother that UNC would not seek Hairston’s reinstatement. Still, Hairston went through practice at 5 a.m. on Thursday morning, and he again practiced on Friday on the Smith Center court where he’ll never play another college game.

Williams spoke with a sense of sadness and disappointment on Friday.

“Losing is always sad,” Williams said, “and I’ve always said many times, the only difficult thing about coaching is that the lows are much lower than the highs are high. But from a personal standpoint, this is the lowest moment that I’ve gone through in 26 years that I can think of.”

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

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