CHAPEL HILL (AP) — North Carolina coach Roy Williams knows he won’t have leading scorer P.J. Hairston and senior Leslie McDonald for at least the season opener. The Hall of Fame coach is still waiting to find out how long the two will be out.
The school said Hairston and McDonald would sit out for the No. 12 Tar Heels’ game against Oakland on Friday night due to NCAA eligibility concerns, which have lingered over the program since a trouble-filled offseason.
“It’s an ongoing issue, a compliance issue with the university and the NCAA,” team spokesman Steve Kirschner said Thursday. “We’re working together on that, but they’re not playing. Really that’s all we can get into at this point.”
Authorities cited Hairston in May and June while driving a rental vehicle linked to a felon, raising the possibility of an improper benefits violation.
The school hasn’t specified McDonald’s issue, though UNC had to send a letter this summer ordering a company that makes designer mouth guards to stop using McDonald on a website promoting its brand.
McDonald had made at least one social media post last year about wearing one of the company’s mouth guards. NCAA rules generally prohibit athletes from endorsing or promoting a company or product.
Kirschner announced both players’ statuses shortly before Williams’ already scheduled news conference in advance of the first game.
Williams had hoped to have any lingering eligibility questions resolved by now. During the team’s media day on Sept. 26, Williams said a decision on Hairston’s status would come “before the season starts, there’s no question.”
A month later, he first publicly acknowledged the school was conferring with the NCAA about McDonald’s status after the team’s annual preseason “Late Night With Roy” show and has been noncommittal on when decisions would come ever since.
Williams said Thursday both Hairston and McDonald have been practicing well, though neither had been on the first team in drills for the past week or so.
“Well, you know, it is frustrating, but it’s also a long process,” he said. “We’re trying to do what we can do. The NCAA is trying to do what they can do. But it’s what it is. I’m sure they — they meaning the NCAA — would like to settle all their cases in five minutes, too. We’ve just got to try to continue working with them and working with our student-athletes and do the best job we can do and see what happens.”
Hairston, a 6-foot-6 junior, averaged about 15 points and shot 40 percent from 3-point range, with most of that production after he was elevated to a full-time starting role in a four-guard lineup that sparked a late surge for the Tar Heels.
McDonald, a 6-5 guard, averaged 7.2 points and shot 36 percent from behind the arc last year in a reserve role.
Their absences Friday, along with the early departure of Reggie Bullock to the NBA, will be a big blow to the Tar Heels’ perimeter depth and outside shooting. Both players sat out last week’s exhibition game against UNC Pembroke, with the Tar Heels — who also played without sophomore swingman J.P. Tokoto — looking disjointed while committing 23 turnovers and shooting just 3-for-15 from behind the arc.
Williams said Tokoto and freshman point guard Nate Britt would likely join sophomore point guard Marcus Paige and junior forward James Michael McAdoo in the starting lineup, with Paige playing more off the ball. Williams said he wasn’t sure on a fifth starter.
“It hasn’t been a distraction at all for us,” McAdoo said. “We just come in every day ready to work, ready to practice and get better as a team, and that includes P.J. and Leslie, in practice and off the court.”
The Tar Heels have a week off after Friday’s game. They don’t play again until Nov. 15 against Holy Cross in the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament.