- Read Part I
CHATHAM, Va. --- For the past two years P.J. Hairston has been a go-to name when talking about the top shooters in the class of 2011. It's a title fans hang their hopes on and one Hairston takes great pride in.
But Hargrave Military Academy coach Kevin Keatts is ready for a new moniker for his senior small forward. It's not that Keatts doesn't agree Hairston is a great shooter. He just sees the potential for more.
"I want to get the label off him," Keatts said. "I want him to be an all-around player. I want him to be one of those guys people say can do everything and -- oh by the way -- he's a great shooter."
By the time Hairston arrived at Hargrave this fall, Keatts already had a list of things he wanted to address in order to reach this goal.
The first step of the transformation was pretty obvious. Hairston needed to drop some weight and he's done that in his first few months -- trimming down from 240 to 217 pounds.
From there Hairston needed to work on his ability to get to the basket and finish. Keatts saw Hairston play a handful of times last summer and a few plays stuck out to him.
"I noticed a lot of times when he was leading the fast break he'd try to do too much with the ball and he'd dribble it off his leg," Keatts said. "That was one thing I made a mental note of when he decided he was coming here, I wanted to help him become a better ball handler."
Hairston started the year by becoming better acquainted with the dribbling cones at Hargrave and the results have been encouraging.
Hairston plays power forward for Hargrave -- in a four-out, one-in formation -- and is utilized as a pick and pop guy. But his ability to get to the basket off a pump fake expanded his game significantly.
"Is he polished? No. Is he a point guard? No," Keatts said. "But we've helped him become better and he has worked hard at it."
And those last six words are an important part of the equation. You won't find many 17-year olds who can look at themselves in the mirror and address their game with honesty but Hairston is one of them. Ignoring a problem isn't going to fix it and Hairston attacked his shortcomings this season.
"I couldn't dribble last year," Hairston admits. "I mean, I could dribble but not to the point where it is now. Now they don't know what I'm going to do. It makes me harder to guard. They have to make decisions."
Perhaps even more beneficial than anything Keatts can do himself is the setup Hairston has at Hargrave. Playing with four other capable scorers on his team, Hairston was forced to change the way he approaches the game.
It's not enough for him to score 40 points on 30 shots like he did at Greensboro (N.C.) Dudley. Hairston has to pick his spots within an offense and score efficiently.
"We put a lot of demands on him," Keatts said. "He's got to be able to rebound the basketball. He's got to be a good defender. He's got to score the basketball. If he doesn't do those things then he's coming out of the game."
Keatts says his players learn how to play at the college level while still in high school.
"We play two 20 minute halves," Keatts said. "We play with a shot clock and we play with a college three-point line. We kind of run this program as close as we can to a college program. When he gets to college, we don't want anything to be new to him, we want him to have experienced it here."
As much as the game environment has helped him, Hairston might even make more strides in practice.
Playing at a high school like Greensboro (N.C.) Dudley -- one of the top programs in the state -- Hairston could go weeks without seeing an elite player. Playing at Hargrave -- with Marquis Rankin, C.J. Barksdale, Dezmine Wells and others -- he can't go a day.
"It's real tough practicing and competing against Top 100 players in practice every day, knowing that everybody is going to bring it," Hairston said. "Coach Keatts doesn't allow us to go through the motions. We practice like we're playing in a game. We compete in practice like we compete against other teams."
Sometimes that intensity boils over. Hairston said it's not uncommon to get into scuffles with teammates in some of the more heated practices. But that's OK, he and his teammates have a good solution to any scuffle.
"When we play against someone else, we take it out on them," Hairston said.