Jan 12, 2013; Tallahassee, FL, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Pj Hairston (15) dunks the ball past Florida State Seminoles guard Michael Snaer (21) and forward Terrance Shannon (2) during the game against the Florida State Seminoles at the Donald L. Tucker Center. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

UNC Basketball: The Evolution of PJ Hairston

PJ Hairston came into Chapel Hill with an excellent reputation and had high expectations his freshman year as every North Carolina player does. For those of you that do not know, PJ Hairston is a 6’5” 220lb monster guard that can play positions 2 through 4. He struggled a great deal throughout his freshman year. He took bad shots, had bad form on his shot, and became one-dimensional. He also had some highlight reel dunks against Texas and Duke that season that I am sure a great deal of Tar Heel fans remember.

It seemed as if PJ had lost his confidence during the year and just could not get it back. He played behind Harrison Barnes, Dexter Strickland, and Reggie Bullock last year and only averaged 13 minutes a game. PJ was not very productive with those minutes and never really had a true breakout game. His career high his freshman year was 19 points coming against South Carolina, 15 of those coming from three-point shots. He shot a bad percentage of 30.8% for his overall shots and 27.3% for 3 point attempts. The one bright spot was his free-throw percentage at 83.9%.

PJ’s sophomore year started off much better than his whole freshman year went, which was not hard to top. Harrison Barnes went to the NBA thus opening some minutes up for PJ, but Leslie McDonald returned to the team from his ACL injury, thus taking some minutes. PJ was only behind Reggie Bullock and Dexter Strickland, but in front of Leslie McDonald. PJ had some good games against some lesser teams in the beginning of the season and got his first start for an injured Reggie Bullock when the Tar Heels played the 20th ranked UNLV rebels at Chapel Hill. PJ stepped up and scored 15 points that game and did a lot of good things that game, especially the 4 steals. This game left fans demanding PJ get more minutes and some questioning if he should start. Hairston then disappeared in the first two ACC games that resulted in losses to Virginia and Miami.

The very next game PJ put the team on his back and led the Tar Heels to a tough victory at Florida State. He had 23 points on 9-14 shooting. Hairston showed us he was not a one-dimensional player that game, going 5-5 on 2 point attempts. He attacked the rim and was very aggressive that game. He caught everyone’s attention against FSU. This game had about every North Carolina fan demanding for Coach Roy Williams to start Hairston. A few games later North Carolina played NC State and there were times when Roy put PJ in then took him out a minute later. Later in that game, Reggie and PJ got the score much closer, ultimately to lose still. This left Tar Heel nation furious. We saw what PJ and Reggie could do when both on the court together and did not see why Roy Williams would not play them together. We won 3 games after that horrific loss to NC State with PJ having solid outings.

Then the Duke game came at Cameron Indoor. Roy Williams then made the decision to start PJ Hairston at the 4 and taking Desmond Hubert out of the starting lineup. In 34 minutes of action, PJ scored 23 points on 8-18 shooting, 8 rebounds, and 6-8 from the free-throw line. Although we lost the game, the Tar Heels played a great game and looked like a top 25 team with Hairston in the starting lineup. PJ Hairston had been officially unleashed. We would go on to see “small ball” for the rest of the season from the Tar Heels.  Over the last 13 games of the year North Carolina went 9-4 playing small ball. PJ Hairston averaged 18.2 points in 30.8 minutes per game. The stats alone do not give enough credit to the impact PJ had in the starting lineup and the rest of the team. PJ became the leader of the team on the court. He brought an intensity that this team needed. He brought a certain toughness to the team that was previously not there. PJ’s toughness was shown when he had 8 stitches in his hand against Florida State in the ACC tournament and still played in the games after despite those stitches. He did not just play either, he played extremely well.  He looked nothing like the non-confident and one-dimensional PJ from his freshman year. PJ hit 89 3 point shots on the season with a 39.6% percentage. His 89 made 3 pointers were second most in school history for a season. He nearly doubled his free attempts from 62 his freshman year to 113 his sophomore year, making 77.9% of them. He got his overall shooting percentage up to 43.1% and 3 point shooting percentage up to 39.6%. I give massive credit to first year assistant Hubert Davis and the coaching staff for helping PJ get his shot back, gaining confidence, and not being one-dimensional.

PJ Hairston recently came out and stated he will be returning for his junior season at North Carolina. This left the whole fan base overjoyed.  Arguably North Carolina’s best player is now returning for another year and now some are beginning to think Hairston could be an All-American for the 2013-2014 season.  Hairston is expected to make major contributions his junior year and become an even better player and leader under Roy Williams, Hubert Davis, and the rest of the coaching staff. Watch out everyone, PJ Hairston has been unleashed.

Tags: Desmond Hubert Dexter Strickland Harrison Barnes Leslie McDonald Reggie Bullock

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