North Carolina reserve guard Leslie McDonald has been cleared to play by the university, and will make his season debut Wednesday against Texas, Yahoo Sports has learned. Star shooting guard P.J. Hairston, however, remains in limbo and is unlikely to play this season, a source close to the school's basketball program told Yahoo Sports.
Hairston might decide to leave school and declare himself eligible for the NBA draft, the source said.
The NCAA later confirmed McDonald has been cleared to resume playing.
Both McDonald and Hairston have been inactive for the Tar Heels following eligibility questions, which arose over the summer, about the players possibly receiving impermissible benefits. Hairston's potential issues surfaced in July after it was revealed he had driven at least two rental cars connected to Haydn "Fatts" Thomas, a Durham, N.C., resident and club promoter. North Carolina also sent a cease-and-desist letter during the summer to Iceberg Guards, a mouth guard company that had featured McDonald in promotional materials.
McDonald received the standard 30 percent of season suspension and must repay $1,783 in impermissible benefits to a charity of his choice. North Carolina applied for his reinstatement on Dec. 11.
North Carolina has not applied for Hairston's reinstatement.
North Carolina has declined to comment on the specifics of its investigation into Hairston and McDonald, nor revealed whether the NCAA's enforcement office has become involved. However, the university has said the inactivity of McDonald and Hairston has been related to NCAA compliance.
"It's an ongoing issue, a compliance issue with the university and the NCAA," Tar Heels spokesperson Steve Kirschner told the Associated Press in November. "We're working together on that, but they're not playing. Really that's all we can get into at this point."
Hairston was a key starter and UNC's leading scorer last season averaging 14.5 points while shooting 40 percent from 3-point range. McDonald averaged 7.2 points as a reserve.
The 7-2 Tar Heels are ranked No. 14 in the latest AP poll and have had significant wins over Kentucky, Michigan State and Louisville. Their two losses were to Belmont and Alabama-Birmingham.
North Carolina head coach Roy Williams expressed frustration with the process of getting the players back on the floor in November.
"We're trying to do what we can do," Williams said in a November news conference. "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."
Yahoo Sports' college columnist Pat Forde contributed to this report.
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