CHAPEL HILL (AP) — P.J. Hairston will be at practice when North Carolina starts preseason workouts today. Beyond that, coach Roy Williams isn’t ready to say how many games his suspended leading scorer will miss due to offseason trouble.
In a statement Thursday, Williams said the practice decision is Hairston’s “first step toward permanently earning his place back on the roster” after twice being cited by authorities while driving a rental vehicle linked to a felon. Williams suspended Hairston indefinitely in July after he was also charged with speeding and reckless driving, though Hairston later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge.
In a news conference after that release, Williams said he has put Hairston through 18 days of extra conditioning work and stripped him of any leadership role on the team as part of his punishment.
“P.J. has done more conditioning this preseason than any player I’ve ever had,” Williams said. “He’s done more than three times more than any player I’ve ever had. He has not asked me the question yet but I know it’s in his mind: he’s wondering if he’s on a track scholarship.”
Williams said Hairston has done everything asked of him to earn his way back so far but there’s more to do. He said Hairston has shown “a sense of remorse” for mistakes that “embarrassed his family, our program and the university.”
The Hall of Fame coach said he’ll make a final decision on how many games Hairston will miss before the season opener Nov. 8 against Oakland. When asked whether the NCAA was involved in that process, Williams said, “I can’t speak for what the NCAA is doing or not doing. I know Roy Williams has a tremendous voice in what else is going to be done.”
Hairston wasn’t available for the team’s preseason media day interviews, but issued a statement apologizing for his actions.
“I know I let a lot of people down, including our fans and all the people who love not just the basketball team but UNC,” Hairston said. “I will do whatever I can to regain your faith in me and make sure that I represent the school and the Tar Heels with respect in the future.”
Hairston was originally cited for speeding in May while driving a late-model sports car rented under the name of a woman sharing the home address of Haydn Patrick “Fats” Thomas, a Durham man facing a pending drug case. Less than a month later, Hairston was arrested in Durham along with two passengers and charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession while driving an SUV rented under Thomas’ name.
Hairston’s drug charge was dismissed in July after he completed a drug assessment program. Nine days later, Williams suspended Hairston indefinitely after the junior was cited for driving 93 mph in a 65 mph zone along Interstate 85 in Salisbury.
Sophomore point guard Marcus Paige said Hairston has apologized to his teammates.
“We understand it wasn’t a great situation for our program or P.J. or anything, but you have to move on,” Paige said. “I think our team handled it well. I think P.J. handled it well. And we’re ready to move past it and focus on basketball.”
In addition, Williams said senior guard Leslie McDonald also has lost “leadership rights” for now. Earlier this summer, the school sent a letter ordering a company that makes designer mouth guards to stop using McDonald on a web site promoting its brand.
McDonald had made at least one post on social media last year about wearing one of the company’s mouth guards during a game. NCAA rules generally prohibit athletes from endorsing or promoting a company or product.
Williams said he has no concerns about McDonald’s eligibility, though he noted McDonald “hasn’t been as deep in the doghouse but he knows there’s some barking going on in there.”
McDonald declined to talk in detail about the mouth guard issue.
“For myself, I talked to the coaching staff and coach,” he said. “We’re discussing the whole thing. For right now, I don’t think this is the environment to discuss anything about any negativity that happened in the summer.”