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December 20, 2013

Hairston Saga Concludes

This week has clearly been one of the most difficult weeks in what has, for the most part, been a pretty spoiled head coaching career for Roy Williams at two of the most storied programs in the history of college basketball, North Carolina and Kansas.

The news broke Friday afternoon that P.J. Hairston wouldn't be given a chance to return to the Tar Heel roster, as the University of North Carolina announced that it wouldn't be seeking reinstatement for the junior perimeter standout.

Shortly after UNC made the announcement, the Hairston family released a statement.

"We are displeased with the University of North Carolina's decision not to submit the necessary paperwork to the NCAA requesting to have P.J. reinstated. This process has been long, and for it to end without having a final decision from the governing body is a shame. Ultimately this affects P.J. and his eligibility to play Division I college basketball for the remainder of this season, as well as next season."

"Despite our disappointment, we wish the team continued success. P.J. will be making an announcement about his future plans within the next few weeks."

For Coach Williams, it was clearly a grueling process, and watching his face and his mannerisms during Friday's press conference made it clear to see that he was very much pained by the ruling.

"The reaction to it is probably the most difficult and saddest thing I've ever gone through as a head coach. It's been a process. If you want to know how to lose five pounds in seven days, go through this crap," he said. "It's been a difficult time period for all of us. It's an extremely difficult time period for me because you're talking about a young man that I have been so mixed, because I was so mad early. And I had been so proud of him."

"He's handled everything, and I admire him. I don't admire the actions that caused it, and he knows that, but I've admired the way he's handled things so greatly that it's off the charts."

"Losing is always sad, and I've always said many times the only difficult thing about coaching is that the lows are much lower than the highs are high. But from a personal standpoint, this is the lowest moment that I've gone through in 26 years that I can think of," the Hall of Fame UNC coach continued.

Williams reiterated that it got to a certain point when the NCAA and the University were collecting information on the situation and that he was no longer in control of Hairston's suspension---either the length of it or whether or not he would even be eligible to return at all.

"You've got a thousand questions. I've got no answers. The head coach is not involved in NCAA processes. The head coach is sort of stuck in the middle because he wants to know, and he understands. He sees the NCAA's part. He sees the institution's part. He sees the kid's part. The head coach is the one that's involved with the turmoil at a greater degree than anyone else. I'm not saying there's not turmoil for our administration. I'm not saying that. But the head coach is the one that's involved in the turmoil from a personal standpoint. I'm the guy that goes and sits in the living room."

"We worked with the NCAA and our own department, our own staff, to gather information. And we have to agree on the facts," said UNC Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham. "You know, everything was a factor in the decision. All the information that we collected, we tried to reconcile all of it with the information we've collected from a lot of different people. And at the end of the day, we didn't think we had enough, in conjunction with the NCAA, to submit for reinstatement. We collected as much information as we had, from all kinds of different sources."

"Just throughout the entire process, we were gathering information the whole time. And I'm not sure there's a specific point in time where things change. But ultimately we were just doing everything we could do to gather information. And it was right up until last week."

Cunningham acknowledged that it was a painful, difficult conversation with Hairston on Wednesday letting him know that his career at North Carolina was ending this way, unique from any other player in the history of UNC basketball in that he wasn't kicked off the team by the head coach, but instead rendered ineligible by the University and NCAA by default.

"(It was) Very difficult. Very emotional (telling Hairston). He's been hopeful the entire time. We've all been hopeful the entire time that he'd be able to play again. But by the time we gathered all the information and worked with the NCAA, it just wasn't there," Cunningham said.

"Obviously you never want to be in a situation where a student-athlete is unable to participate. I mean, we've taken a long time to get to this point, and it's very disappointing for P.J. and his family. And he has been terrific, as Roy has said, in the past six months in this entire process. But we're at the unfortunate time now that we're not going to seek reinstatement for him."

Cunningham said that UNC knew by the time it was preparing to apply for reinstatement for Leslie McDonald earlier in the week that it probably wasn't going to work out with Hairston.

Prior to the Texas game UNC released that McDonald would be playing after he had been approved for reinstatement, but cryptically added that McDonald was the only player for which reinstatement had been applied for.

"Ultimately it (the decision) was made on Tuesday when we submitted the reinstatement for Leslie. We have spent six months gathering all kinds of information, and interviewed people all the way up until last week. We did everything we could possibly do to get both kids back playing. That's what they love to do, and we love having them here."

"But we had enough information that we all agreed upon with the University and the NCAA to submit reinstatement for Leslie, but we just didn't have it for P.J."

As of early Friday afternoon Williams hadn't discussed the situation with the UNC players, but that was sure to come before the Tar Heels return to the court Saturday evening at 5:00 in the Smith Center against Davidson.

Williams, pissed off at the team's focus and effort in Wednesday night's 86-83 loss to Texas, had the team on the floor Thursday morning at 5:00 practicing. That was the last time he had conversed with Hairston before returning to Chapel Hill Friday.

"I have not talked to the team (as of Friday afternoon)," Williams replied. "I talked to them at 5:00 (Thursday) morning, and at that point they didn't want to talk to me any more. 5:00 I practiced. This has been a process. At 5:00 I practiced. They had a limo waiting outside to get my butt away from them, and they all chipped in for it so I could get my butt out as quickly as I could possibly get out."

"No, I haven't (spoken with Hairston yet). Is that the best way to say it? I spoke to him at the 5:00 am period, and at the end of the 5:00 period he was not interested in talking to me. Needless to say we've had conversations, but it's not about the final result."

"P.J. and I are going to have some conversations. Very close, personal conversations. But guys, I just got back in town at 4:00 am this morning. I got back at the office at 12:15. You guys have just got to understand I don't have anything else to say."

"Everybody's tried to do the best they could do to get all the information, and everybody's done the best they can do to be concerned about everyone involved in the process, and the statement is out there."

"I haven't been involved in the process," Williams continued. "I understand everybody's position. But again, (the head coach is) closer to the player, because I'm the one that goes in the living room. But I see every reason. And I'm not trying to be harsh. And you can believe that or not. I haven't sat in on any of the meetings. The NCAA investigators, they don't call and say, 'Hey Roy, what do you think of this?'"

"It's what it is. And we've got to move on. But my care for that young man is never going to stop."

Later in the press conference Williams got agitated about the number of Hairston-related questions, though it was clear from the outset that few, if any, other topics with the possible exception of Joel James' knee---he'll be out 10-14 days with a sprained MCL knee ligament---had the attention of the media in this particular press gathering.

"If you want to talk about Davidson or my team or what a jerk I am at 5:00 in the morning, or anything else I'll be willing to do that," Williams said. "If that (the Hairston situation) is all you want to talk about, then you are reading the absolute last statement I will ever make. That's the reason we take the time to make the statement. If that's all you want to talk about, why are we having a press conference?"

From the standpoint of the rest of the team, Hairston's absence clearly will be felt, as he's not only the team's most consistent outside shooter, but he's an aggressive rebounder and solid defender who will take charges and fight for loose balls.

What's more, Hairston brings a certain air---a swagger---to the court that nobody else within this particular group of UNC players brings. It's just a fact.

Another way of saying it might be that if you could pick one person from the last year's Tar Heels to join you in a street fight in a dark alley, Hairston would have to be that guy.

"It's not going to benefit the team physically on the court. We've lost a game by four and a game by three where we missed 49 free throws. P.J. can make a free throw. He's been the most dominating player in our practice on the perimeter in practice that I've ever coached," Williams said. "So it's already affected our team from a won-loss standpoint."

Williams is also worried that the news of losing Hairston might hurt the team's psyche and work ethic in practice since Hairston has worked so hard in drills.

"From a mental standpoint, our team has been so resilient. But they're going to hurt from this. Because I put it, it's the best statement I ever heard, when somebody said he (Hairston) has been almost a perfect teammate. We're sitting here, and this is a kid that I took off the Media Guide, poster, told him he couldn't be the Captain. First day we've got a sophomore and a junior that walks out and talks to the referees every game."

"I ran him until he almost dropped. So they (his teammates) are going to hurt for him. There's no question about that."

At the same time, Williams acknowledges that Hairston has to pay the price for his actions, and since UNC didn't even attempt to seek reinstatement for the junior perimeter, it's pretty clear that there were circumstances not favorable to regaining his intercollegiate eligibility.

"The actions (to earn the suspension) were there. And then all of us in life pay for our actions, and these are some very difficult actions, that he's paid for his actions. I have no problem saying that. That's the very frustrating part. The mad part. And like a parent, you get mad at their actions, but you still love your children."


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