An Unexpected Detour For PJ Hairston on His Way to the NBAPosted by Chris Kehoe on January 15th, 2014
Most every high school star and prominent AAU recruit dreams of the traditional ascent to the professional ranks. That typically includes playing for a shoe-sponsored AAU team, getting recruited at the highest level, and ending up at a powerhouse program before their name is called at the NBA Draft. However, as history shows us, only a small fraction of these players make the big time, and often it can be some of those who were least expected to do so. For some prominent collegiate stars, there might be a number of road bumps and bouts with adversity standing in the way of their ultimate dreams.
Anyone familiar with ACC basketball this season has heard ad nauseam about the P.J. Hairston scandal and the hits that UNC’s basketball program has taken as a result. Regardless of what occurred and how it was handled, it is clear that his collegiate playing days prematurely came to an end. As a result, Hairston and his team of advisors and family recently made it known that he plans to spend the rest of the season in the NBA’s Developmental League (D-League). Hairston is not eligible to be called up to the NBA (if a team was so inclined) in the 2013-14 season, but he will be allowed to put his name among the entrants for the 2014 NBA Draft.
While the D-League has not been a primary destination for those wishing to forgo a year in the college ranks, it has its fair share of former college stars and a good amount of talent within its confines. Some big names to have played (or are still playing) in the D-League this year include Baylor’s Pierre Jackson, Duke’s Seth Curry, West Virginia/LA Lakers’ Devin Ebanks, Boston College/Dallas’ Jared Cunningham, and former ACC standout and Virginia product, Sean Singletary. While it remains difficult to be called up for an extended and permanent NBA stay once demoted to the D-League, it is not unheard of and has certainly happened with a number of players. Even lottery picks like ex-UCLA star/Minnesota’s Shabazz Muhammad have played in the D-League this season. Clearly Hairston will have his work cut out in playing against numerous past collegiate stars all hoping to make a professional name for themselves and receive the hopeful call up to the big leagues.
The most similar story to Hairston that comes to mind has to be Georgia Tech’s former disciplinary nightmare, Glen Rice, Jr., a player who in 2012 was kicked off the team after three suspensions in a season — the last of which related to a shooting at a nightclub. Rice decided to play the rest of the year in the D-League and racked up impressive statistics there, averaging 25.0 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 2.0 SPG, and 2.0 BPG in the playoffs on his way to being drafted 35th overall by the Philadelphia 76ers (before a subsequent trade to the Wizards).
It will be interesting to see if Hairston can parlay his success as a long-range sniper at UNC into a spot in this year’s draft, even with his off-court issues magnified and still fresh on general managers’ minds. He has a translatable skill with his long range acumen and prototypical size for a shooting guard, but he lacks a multitude of other skills to complement that. At best, he seems to project as a role player/designated shooter off the bench in a strong second unit. Hairston, of course, isn’t alone in this D-League venture, as former Louisville star forward and 2013 National Champion, Chane Behanan, seems likely to follow Hairston to the D-League as well. Hairston seemed poised for a breakout season on a talented UNC team this season, but his off-court issues sidetracked him and the team’s plans. He will now have to take a less traditional route to the NBA — one filled with inglorious games played in mostly empty gyms rather than the capacity crowds in the ACC — but his trial through adversity may make him a tougher person and better player for it. Only time will tell.