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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina's P.J. Hairston looked in midseason form Friday night despite a trouble-filled offseason, while freshman Kennedy Meeks appeared ready to give the Tar Heels a boost up front.
Hairston scored 20 points in the team's public scrimmage during the annual "Late Night With Roy" preseason event, while Meeks had 16 points and 12 rebounds, according to unofficial stats. The Blue-White game ended in a 50-all tie on Marcus Paige's runner with 0.5 seconds left.
The Tar Heels are unsure how long Hairston will have to sit out after authorities cited the top returning scorer in May and June as he drove a rental car linked to a felon, raising the possibility of an NCAA violation for receiving improper benefits.
Hairston was arrested and charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession during the second traffic stop, though that charge was dismissed in July. Nine days after the dismissal, coach Roy Williams indefinitely suspended Hairston after he was charged with speeding and reckless driving, though he allowed Hairston to practice when workouts began last month.
Hairston received a loud cheer from Smith Center fans when players were introduced early in Friday night's show. The junior got off to a fast start in the 20-minute scrimmage, hitting the first of his four 3-pointers barely 10 seconds in.
Williams said he thought Hairston appreciated the cheers.
"He's had a tough, tough time, the majority of it caused by himself," Williams said. "But he's still had a tough, tough time."
Williams said the school also has conferred with the NCAA about concerns over Leslie McDonald, a senior reserve. It's unclear exactly what the issue is, though the school had to send a letter this summer ordering a company that makes designer mouth guards to stop using McDonald on a website 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.
"They're going to be part of it, yeah," Williams said of the NCAA when asked about McDonald's status. "All the rumors and everything that's been going around since June, we've still been addressing those. It's the kind of thing where there's still things in process with P.J. and Leslie both, but that is part of it, yes."
Williams also said sophomore J.P. Tokoto would sit out next week's exhibition game against UNC Pembroke after failing to file the appropriate paperwork before playing two games in an NCAA-sanctioned summer league in Milwaukee. Tokoto didn't play in the team's recent private scrimmage with Vanderbilt.
The Tar Heels are looking for some inside help after relying on a four-guard lineup late last season, and Meeks — a 6-foot-9 forward from Charlotte — could fill that void. He's already dropped from 317 pounds when he arrived on campus this summer to 284, and he finished with a double-double.
"You see what he can do: carve out space, get offensive rebounds," Paige said. "So that should help us out a lot. He's a big presence and he has good hands."
The "Late Night" show of skits, dancing and jokes typically marks the start of preseason practice, but the Tar Heels are already a month into workouts due to NCAA rule changes.
Friday's show opened with the introduction of the women's basketball team, though recently inducted Naismith Hall of Fame coach Sylvia Hatchell was unable to attend as she continues her treatment for leukemia here on campus. Hatchell taped a message that was played shortly before her players took the court.
"I want you to make a lot of noise so I can hear you up here at the Lineberger Cancer Center," Hatchell said, drawing loud cheers from the crowd.
Her longtime assistant Andrew Calder is leading the program while Hatchell is focusing on treatment. The Tar Heels added a recruiting class ranked No. 1 nationally by ESPN with three McDonald's All-Americans.
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