“I deserve all the blame,” Hairston said. “It was totally my fault. I regret everything that happened.”
Hairston’s comments came during his first interview with a major media outlet since last summer, when the NCAA began investigating his use of rental cars linked to Durham-based party promoter Haydn “Fats” Thomas, who has ties to North Carolina athletes because they attend his parties.
When questioned, Hairston didn’t deny having a relationship with Thomas or that he drove the rental cars.
"But I don’t want to comment on either of those things," Hairston said. "They were mistakes I made in life that aren’t going to happen again, because I won’t put myself in that situation."
Even as he awaited the NCAA’s ruling throughout the fall, Hairston said he never envisioned a scenario where he wouldn’t be playing for the Tar Heels this season. He said athletic director Bubba Cunningham and coach Roy Williams warned him that he’d have to miss some games, but both felt good about Hairston’s chances of eventually being reinstated.
Hairston said he was crushed when Williams summoned him into his office before a Dec. 18 game against Texas to tell him the school would not seek his reinstatement from the NCAA, apparently because they weren’t confident it would be granted.
"I never had any doubt that I was going to play," Hairston said, "so yeah, I was surprised. I was hurt at first. Coach said it was one of the saddest things that ever happened to him. That was the mood around the whole locker room."
Hairston doesn't go into much detail about his various misdeeds, the rental cars and his relationship with Haydn "Fats" Thomas nor should anyone expect that any time soon. Hairston is still at a point where he needs to keep the details close to his vest until he does interviews with teams interested in drafting him. At that point it is likely he will have to answer some questions about what went on although for the most part pro teams in general don't usually care about NCAA violations.
Despite the lack of details, Hairston owns up to his mistakes and apologizes for what happened. He doesn't bear any ill-will towards UNC or Roy Williams over the decision to not seek reinstatement from the NCAA. He is still in contact with Williams and his teammates putting to rest any concerns that the way his career ended led to a rift between him and UNC. In fact Hairston is planning on returning to UNC for the Tar Heels' February 15th game against Pitt.
As a side note, Hairston indicated the news that he would not play for UNC this season was devastating to both Roy Williams and to his teammates. There were a lot of questions concerning what happened to UNC after the Heels beat Kentucky and into the first five games of ACC play. The effort/intensity issue was certainly a factor but even beyond that, it felt like this team was in a bit of a fog. UNC lost a close game to Texas, needed overtime to beat Davidson and did not look particularly sharp versus Northern Kentucky or UNC Wilmington. Then ACC play started and the Tar Heels just seemed out of sorts until after the loss at Virginia when they regained their footing a bit.
That week after UNC beat Kentucky marked a high degree of disruption for the team on and off the court. Leslie McDonald returned from suspension and Hairston's case was resolved. McDonald's return led to a several game period of adjustment both for his teammates and the player himself. Only in the past three games does it feel like everyone has settled into their roles. Basically UNC needed to figure out how to play with McDonald and vice-versa. In addition to the basketball chemistry, the emotional toll of Hairston's case being resolved and then him leaving the team should not be discounted so easily. There may have been an element of hope involved with how the team approached games. A hope that if Hairston came back they could be a contender. He was also a voice in the locker room, a presence in practice and on the bench during games. His sudden departure undoubtedly shook the team and led to a bit of a downward spiral.
At this point it looks as though the team as been able to shake off the malaise as well as find a lineup that works. As noted countless times in the past two weeks, UNC is operating with a new sense of urgency, something that was partially inspired by the words of Jawad Williams in an article written for GoHeels.com. The easing of the schedule has helped with a true test of where this team is at looming over the next four games.