Sports Talk

P.J. Hairston cleared to practice at North Carolina, but when will he play?

It goes without saying that North Carolina junior guard P.J. Hairston experienced an eventful offseason. Traffic stops, a reported connection to a nefarious character who goes by the nickname of “Fats” and questions regarding vehicles driven by Hairston ultimately led to head coach Roy Williams making the decision in late July to suspend the Tar Heels’ leading scorer indefinitely.

The question asked by many: when would Hairston be cleared to resume activities with the team? On Thursday the school announced its decision in regards to practice, with Hairston now cleared to practice with his teammates on Friday. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given the fact that Hairston was already participating in workouts with his teammates; Thursday’s announcement just makes things official.

“In 26 years as a head coach, I’ve never made the demands on a young man that I have made of P.J.,” Williams said in the release.  “To his credit, he accepted them without question. This is just the first step towards permanently earning his place back on the roster. He will have to sit out some games, but we haven’t yet determined how many that will be.”

How many games will Hairston have to miss? That remains to be seen, and how he fares from this point forward will obviously have an impact on Coach Williams’ decision.

I will do whatever I can to regain your faith in me and make sure that I represent the school and the Tar Heels with respect in the future,” said Hairston. “I appreciate Coach Williams giving me another chance to show that I can and will make better choices and decisions. I owe it to my mom, my dad, my coaches and teammates and every Tar Heel out there to make you proud to have me play basketball for Carolina.

“It was my dream as a kid and I would love more than anything to have that chance once again.”

Of course the cynics out there will retort that the length of the suspension will be influenced by North Carolina’s schedule. Following an exhibition against UNC Pembroke on November 1 the Tar Heels will play three straight games at home, hosting Oakland, Holy Cross and Belmont. Both Oakland (led by one of the nation’s best shooters in Travis Bader) and Belmont (which has made three consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament) have the ability to be a pesky opponent for North Carolina, but those will be games the Tar Heels are expected to win.

From there they’ll play two games at the Mohegan Sun Arena (Uncasville, Conn.), taking on Richmond (November 23) and either Fairfield or Louisville (November 24). With the defending national champion Cardinals looming, could that be when Hairston makes his return? UNC also has non-conference games against Michigan State (December 4) and Kentucky (December 14) before they begin ACC play against Wake Forest on January 5.

With guard Marcus Paige and forward James Michael McAdoo back and a highly regarded recruiting class on campus, North Carolina will once again be a factor in the ACC. But how much of a factor they are depends upon how productive Hairston is offensively with Reggie Bullock now in the NBA. If Hairston has truly learned from his offseason problems, both he and North Carolina stand to reap the rewards.

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