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The Daily Tar Heel

Hairston and McDonald still in limbo

Photos from UNC Men's Basketball's game against Belmont on November 17th, 2013 at Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Photos from UNC Men's Basketball's game against Belmont on November 17th, 2013 at Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Since North Carolina junior guard P.J. Hairston’s indefinite suspension was announced on July 28, everything about his absence has been just that — indefinite.

There have been no timetables, no official concrete conjectures, no nothing — both Hairston and senior guard Leslie McDonald, who was never formally suspended but awaits his own NCAA ruling, remain on the bench six games into the season.

And on the eve of the matchup at No. 1 Michigan State, Hairston and McDonald will remain in Chapel Hill, still waiting for their fate to be determined.

Coach Roy Williams initially proclaimed that Hairston’s punishment for a summer of run-ins with the law and connection to felon Haydn “Fats” Thomas would be up to him.

And while Hairston’s troubles occupied the spotlight this summer, McDonald was wrapped up in legal trouble of his own that culminated with a cease-and-desist letter sent from UNC to a designer mouthguard company, Iceberg Guards, for using McDonald to promote their product.

Williams publicly took charge in both cases, telling the media that he would determine each player’s punishment.

Hairston told The Daily Tar Heel in late August that he expected to take the court at some point in the season.

“Yeah, I’ll be on the court,” he said. “I’m not sure how long I’ll have to sit out. I haven’t found out yet, but whatever it is I’m ready for it.”

In the months since Williams’ assessment of Hairston and McDonald’s situations, his confident assurance of their return has waned.

At the team’s media day in Chapel Hill Sept. 26, Williams told reporters that he was in charge of determining Hairston’s return.

Williams told reporters he couldn’t “speak to what the NCAA is doing, but I know Roy Williams has a tremendous voice in what else is going to be done.”

Hairston earned the right to practice when it opened on Sept. 26. McDonald was also allowed to practice but each of the players was stripped of leadership responsibilities.

By the ACC’s annual media day in Charlotte on Oct. 16, Williams admitted that the NCAA had a hand in the decision of the punishments, responding with “Oh yeah,” when asked if the organization was involved.

But he again reassured the group of reporters surrounding him that the question marks regarding Hairston and McDonald would be resolved before the season.

Williams’ certainty of the situation dissipated more as the season neared, and by the opener against Oakland on Nov. 8, Williams announced both McDonald and Hairston would not dress.

“It’s frustrating but it’s a long process,” Williams said before the game. “We’re trying to do what we can do and the NCAA is trying to do what they can do.”

Each week in Williams’ press conference, the update on the pair’s status has been the same — no update.

At the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament Williams said he believes he’ll coach Hairston again this season, but without an answer from the NCAA, he can’t be sure of anything.

“I think I will,” he said on Nov. 23. “There’s no doubt in my mind that I think I will. But I don’t know.”

The process of the investigation has been ongoing for months, but the NCAA’s exact process has been convoluted and secretive.

The NCAA didn’t respond for comment.

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Like Williams, the rest of the UNC players don’t know what’s going on with the duo’s situation. But in the interim, they’re forced to play on with the players available.

“We can’t be concerned and spend all our time worrying about somebody who isn’t here,” Williams said on Nov. 23. “We just have to sit and wait, and at some point we’ll find out what happens, and we’ll go from there.”