By Andrew Carter
December 18, 2013 Updated 8 hours ago
CHAPEL HILL — A little more than three minutes into North Carolina’s 86-83 loss against Texas on Wednesday night, Roy Williams turned to the Tar Heels bench and pointed to Leslie McDonald. For the first time this season, McDonald stood up, peeled off his pullover and headed to center court.
There was a smattering of applause in the Smith Center then. It turned into a roar when McDonald checked into the game with 16 minutes and 14 seconds to play. The NCAA had ruled McDonald eligible earlier in the day, after he sat out the first nine games amid an investigation into impermissible benefits that he received.
The NCAA determined that McDonald, who finished with 15 points on Wednesday night, must repay $1,783 to a charity of his choice “for receiving numerous impermissible extra benefits.” They included the use of luxury cars, lodging, the payment of parking tickets and a cell phone.
“Overwhelming,” McDonald said Wednesday night of his emotions when he learned he’d be able to play. “I’ll tell you one thing – I didn’t believe it at first. But once I knew it was real I just had this, it’s kind of hard to change that mentality from knowing that you’re going to be on the sideline in a suit and knowing you’re going to have your jersey on. You know, you’ve just got to click it on.”
McDonald’s NCAA issues are now in the past. P.J. Hairston’s though, continue to linger on. Hairston, like McDonald, had missed UNC’s first nine games of the season. Hairston missed his 10th on Wednesday night, and sat and watched from the bench wearing a suit and tie – his usual attire this season.
Hairston’s name was absent from the NCAA’s statement, which said McDonald’s reinstatement request “is the only one the NCAA has received from North Carolina.”
That might not bode well for the possibility of Hairston’s return. In impermissible benefits cases, it’s up to schools to declare athletes ineligible and then file a reinstatement request.
UNC, according to the NCAA, discovered McDonald’s rule violations Oct.24 – about two weeks before opening the season Nov.8. The university submitted a reinstatement request to the NCAA for McDonald on Dec. 11. The NCAA and UNC then worked together “to finalize the facts.”
It’s unclear where Hairston’s case might stand – and whether UNC already submitted a reinstatement request and was denied, or whether it simply chose not to submit a reinstatement request. Asked if he expected to learn a resolution at the same time about Hairston and McDonald, Roy Williams, the UNC coach, said “I have no idea.”
“I mean, come on,” he said. “I’ve been sitting here since June. When they tell me something, I’m going to play the people.”
After the defeat against Texas, UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham released a statement through a school spokesman. In the statement, Cunningham expressed optimism that Hairston’s case would be resolved by the end of the week.
“The University of North Carolina is working with P.J. and his family to settle a few unresolved issues that remain,” Cunningham said in the statement. “We expect to have this matter resolved by the end of the week.”
If it is resolved, that would bring an end to a long, murky saga that has clearly frustrated Williams, who expressed confidence before the season began that UNC would know Hairston’s fate before the season-opener against Oakland on Nov. 8.
Instead, the case has continued to drag on. McDonald returned on Wednesday night, leaving Hairston as the only UNC player wearing a suit. It was bittersweet, McDonald said, returning while Hairston continued to sit, watching and waiting.
The NCAA provided a breakdown of impermissible benefits Leslie McDonald received:
• Use of cars: McDonald drove a 2009 Porsche Cayenne, registered to Catinia Farrington, for five days, a 2012 Camaro, rented by Haydn “Fats” Thomas and Farrington, for two days, a 2013 Mercedes 350, rented by Thomas, for one day, and a 2008 Audi A4 for two days. The NCAA valued the impermissible benefits from the cars at $708.11 and parking citations at $209.57.
• Lodging: McDonald received three nights of lodging while working at a summer camp in Nags Head. The NCAA valued that impermissible benefit at $50.
• Mouth guard: McDonald received a mouth guard from Iceberg Guards, which the NCAA valued at $50.00.
• iPhone: McDonald said he paid $100 for a used iPhone 4. The NCAA said there was no record of purchase and assessed the value of the impermissible benefit at $24.19.
• NCAA’s assessed value of benefits: $1,041.87 (not including penalties).