UNC G McDonald cleared by NCAA to return after missing nine games
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP)
The NCAA made the announcement about 4 hours before tipoff for the 14th-ranked Tar Heels (7-2) and Longhorns. McDonald missed the first nine games and must repay $1,783 to a charity of his choice after receiving improper benefits from "numerous individuals" during the spring and summer in the form of luxury cars, payment of parking tickets, a cellphone and lodging.
In a statement, coach Roy Williams said this "has been a terrible time for Leslie and his family and our basketball team.
"I was very disappointed by Leslie's actions and he knows this," Williams said. "He has suffered the consequences of his actions and I hope he has learned a lesson that I also hope his teammates recognize."
McDonald must repay the benefits to the charity before his last regular-season game.
"I feel blessed to play again for Carolina," McDonald said in a statement. "I truly regret putting my family, UNC and my teammates and coaches through this. I apologize to everyone who cares about the University of North Carolina and will do what I can to make up for it."
Junior P.J. Hairston remained sidelined due to NCAA eligibility concerns during Wednesday's game and has yet to play this season. He was twice cited by authorities during the offseason for driving a rental vehicle linked to a felon and party promoter, Haydn Patrick "Fats" Thomas of Durham.
The school had not specifically identified McDonald's eligibility issues before Wednesday's announcement. But in its reinstatement letter to the NCAA, the school said McDonald drove a 2009 Porsche Cayenne registered to a woman who shared Thomas' home address. McDonald said he used the car for five days in late June and early July.
McDonald also drove two rental vehicles tied to Thomas as well as a third vehicle "associated" with Thomas, according to the reinstatement letter.
McDonald also was cited for receiving a designer mouth guard from a friend who works at a local oral surgery practice. McDonald made at least one post on social media about using the mouth guard, which led the school to send a letter over the summer to the manufacturer instructing it to remove McDonald as a listed client from its promotional website.
McDonald also received an improper benefit for staying at the home of a basketball camp director in Nags Head for three nights in July while working the camp, as well as for an iPhone 4 provided by Thomas. McDonald had said he paid $100 in cash for the phone, though the reinstatement letter states there are no records confirming the payment.
McDonald is a career reserve who averaged about seven points last year but was set to contend for a starting role.
Hairston's status remains unclear. The 6-foot-6 junior averaged nearly 15 points last season, shot 40 percent from 3-point range and passed on entering the NBA draft in April.
When schools discover rules violations, they must declare the player ineligible and may ask the NCAA for reinstatement. The NCAA said UNC initially asked for McDonald's reinstatement on Dec. 11 and followed that with a complete request Tuesday.
The NCAA said those are the only reinstatement requests UNC has made.