North Carolina sophomore P.J. Hairston has put together two consecutive big time games for the Tar Heels. Hairston started in place of starting small forward Reggie Bullock who missed UNCs 79-73 win over 20th ranked UNLV Saturday with a mild concussion and came up big.
In his freshman season and early on this year Hairstons game relied solely upon his ability to connect on his outside shot. When P.J. struggled from beyond the arc his entire game went away. Hairston wasn’t able to put shooting woes aside and contribute in other facets of the game, in short, his game lacked maturity.
It seems that Hairston may be turning a corner in that respect and becoming a complete player. Hairston has started to take higher percentage shots in the last two games Hairston has averaged 17.5 points on 10-21 shooting. More importantly is the energy he has shown on both ends of the court that the team is feeding off of. Grabbing eight rebounds against McNeese State and coming up with four steals in a big time defensive effort against UNLV he has done what it takes for his team to win.
The P.J. Hairston we are seeing this season versus the Hairston we saw last season who was a shell of his former shelf is like night and day. He looks more fluid, forces things less and let’s the game come to him, he’s playing within the offense and going all out defensively, all things this team desperately needs to keep improving and compete in the ACC.
Roy Williams said in a press conference before the UNLV game that Hairston was doing some nice things but he didn’t have anybody he could take out of his starting lineup in order to get Hairston in it. In my view it’s not about whether Hairston starts or not although I think the team might be better if Dexter Strickland came off the bench with Hairston starting it really boils down to minutes.
Hairston is now averaging 18.8 minutes per game after playing 32 against UNLV. Watching the team feed off his intensity has made one thing apparent, he is forcing Roy Williams hand to give him more minutes on a consistent basis. Carolina doesn’t have another player like Hairston, the Heels have plenty of shooters but they don’t have anyone else with his complete body of work. The evolution of P.J. Hairston is huge for UNC as they enter conference play the team needs him desperately to keep up the pace in which he was played lately and keep attacking on both ends of the floor.