PJ Hairston Done In Chapel HillPosted by mpatton on December 20th, 2013
North Carolina‘s athletic department released a statement today asserting that it will not apply for PJ Hairston‘s reinstatement. Per athletic director Bubba Cunningham: “Unfortunately PJ made a number of mistakes that placed his eligibility at risk and the University’s joint review with the NCAA made it clear that seeking reinstatement for PJ would not be possible.” The news is obviously a blow to this North Carolina team’s ceiling, as Hairston filled a major hole in their rotation. The Tar Heels have three of the best wins in the country without Hairston, but possibly the only bright spot is that closure should allow the team to game plan with certainty going forward.
While Hairston’s case is complex, the decision is simple: North Carolina, with advice from the NCAA, chose not to seek reinstatement because the case wasn’t winnable. Who knows which evidence was the proverbial straw here, but only looking at the limited information available to the public, it was clear Hairston’s case was much more complicated than Leslie McDonald‘s. Little more needs to be said. It’s unclear where Hairston will go from here, but there will be a spot for him in the NBA eventually. This ordeal will probably affect his draft stock, but as Williams pointed out more than once, he’s handled the aftermath incredibly well.
In his press conference following the release (watch the presser), Roy Williams seemed to feel some responsibility in the case. A man who always wears his emotions on his sleeve, a beat-up looking Williams called the effective dismissal “the most difficult and saddest thing I’ve ever gone through as a coach.” He noted that Hairston’s departure would also affect the team saying, “My team is resilient, but they’re going to hurt from this.” All indications point to Hairston as one of the most liked members of the team, both by the team and the fans. There’s no denying his abilities, but there’s also something about his game — utterly without fear of taking any shot at any time — that drew people to him. Hairston and his quick trigger made watching North Carolina games more fun. But that’s an article for another time. Now the question is where the Tar Heels go from here knowing that he isn’t coming back.
The obvious answer is to stay the course, but North Carolina’s schizophrenic performances are cause for concern. This team clearly has the talent to beat just about anyone in the country, but the team needs to find some steadiness if it wants to excel in the one-and-done NCAA Tournament. The first key is free throw shooting. North Carolina shot a combined 50-of-106 (47%) from the free throw line in its three losses. The rest of the year the team is 139 -of-211 (just shy of 66%). That second number isn’t great, but it would give the Tar Heels more of a cushion. The good news is that McDonald’s recent return gives the Tar Heels a second ball handler with an above average free throw percentage (Nate Britt should eventually make a third). But until James Michael McAdoo, Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson are passable from the charity stripe, it will be an x-factor in every game the Tar Heels play.
The second big hole left by Hairston is his lightning fast, one-man runs. He could put up eight or nine points as fast as any player in basketball. And while Marcus Paige is having a season to earn him a spot in National Player of the Year discussions, he’s not that kind of shooter (though interestingly, Paige is taking the same number of threes a game that Hairston took last season). When all is said and done, Hairston’s departure puts more weight on Roy Williams’ backcourt. Paige has to play well for the Tar Heels to win. Sure McDonald, Britt and JP Tokoto may have good games, but that backcourt doesn’t have another player capable of carrying the team.
Long story short, Hairston’s departure is a big blow to North Carolina’s potential as well as the team’s entertainment value. But the team has proven over the last month and a half that it can win without him.