The absence of two probable starters for North Carolina Saturday against Kentucky gives ESPN analyst Jay Bilas more ammunition to fire at a frequent target: the NCAA and its sense of athletic justice.
Bilas questions the time it's taking the NCAA to rule on P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald, who've sat on the bench in suits all season while waiting for the NCAA to render a judgment.
"They can figure out (Johnny) Manziel's situation in no time and he sits out a half," Bilas said. "These players are going into their ninth game, plus exhibitions (on indefinite suspension by the UNC), and they can't figure it out.
Manziel sat out the first half of Texas A&M's football opener as punishment for getting embroiled in allegations of autographing items for pay. The NCAA couldn't prove Manziel was paid, but it could prove he knew his autographs would be sold. A half-game suspension seemed a compromise that A&M could accept.
Amateurism issues arose in the wake of Hairston being cited for speeding more than once while driving a car rented by a convicted felon and possible UNC booster named Haydn "Fats" Thomas. McDonald appeared in a website advertisement for a designer mouthguard.
Neither has played this season.
Bilas noted how the NCAA gave Missouri Coach Frank Haith a five-game suspension after finding he failed "to promote an atmosphere of compliance" while at Miami.
"Frank Haith was basically called a liar by the NCAA and he got five games," Bilas said. "And these guys are at nine. Where is the proportionality there?
" ... When the stakeholders don't understand it and people who support the product don't understand it, there is a fundamental problem. It gets to the point it's hard not to laugh. But it's not funny."
Sickle cell trait
UK Coach John Calipari expressed surprise that Willie Cauley-Stein acknowledged sickle cell trait can affect his stamina.
"There are many athletes that have it," Calipari said in seeming to downplay Cauley-Stein's condition. "I'm a little cautious I coached others who have that trait. If I see him get winded, I'll make sure he gets fluids and all the other things. You don't want him to get dehydrated."
According to the American Society of Hematology website, sickle cell trait is an inherited blood disorder that affects about 8 percent of black people. Unlike sickle cell disease, a serious illness in which patients have two genes that cause the production of abnormal hemoglobin, individuals with sickle cell trait carry only one defective gene and typically live normal lives.
Most people with sickle cell trait have no symptoms and will not have any health complications, the website said. They can participate in athletics. Maintaining good hydration is important.
Alex Poythress has not scored in the last two games. Calipari advised more exertion in practice.
"You have to be comfortable coming into these practices going nuts and loving it," the UK coach said. "Breaking through. Being energized. Not dreading practice. Then the games become easier. Till then, (Poythress will have) up and down games.
"You've got to love the grind of this."
Size vs. size
Julius Randle spoke of a "good challenge" presented by North Carolina, which can match UK's size on the front line.
When asked whether UNC's size might mean one-on-one opportunities around the basket, Randle said in a quiet voice, "Doubt it."
And if pauses can be wistful, Randle paused wistfully for several seconds before saying again, "Doubt it."
Big game North Carolina will stage the first "white-out" in program history. Nike is providing white shirts.
UNC is also honoring former coach Dean Smith at halftime. On Nov. 20, President Barack Obama presented the 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom awards to a group that included former President Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Ernie Banks, Ben Bradlee, Loretta Lynn and Smith.
Former Tar Heel players Phil Ford and Eric Montross will speak to the crowd during the halftime tribute to Smith.
"Pulling out all the stops," Calipari said.
As his buddy Fran Fraschilla noted the previous week, coaches must turn any potential negative into a positive, which Calipari seemed to attempt.
"What my team needs," Calipari said of the UNC crowd being animated by the white-out and tribute to Smith. "Let's go see where we are." Etc.
Dan Shulman, Dick Vitale and Bilas will call the game for ESPN.
Ex-Heel cited for pot at Williams' house
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Former North Carolina basketball player Will Graves faces misdemeanor drug charges after police found marijuana and drug paraphernalia at a residence owned by Coach Roy Williams.
Police cited Graves on Dec. 6 with simple marijuana possession and possession of drug paraphernalia. Team spokesman Steve Kirschner says Graves was staying at the home while working toward his degree and as a part-time video coordinator for the team this semester. Kirschner says Graves was paying rent to stay there and that Williams was "disappointed" by Graves' charges.
Chapel Hill Police Lt. Josh Mecimore says police went there after a meter reader reported seeing a possible broken window at the residence, which he thought was empty.
Williams dismissed Graves from the team shortly before the 2010-11 season for violating team rules.