Chatham (Va.) Hargrave
Class of 2011
Hairston emerged early at Greensboro (N.C.) Dudley as one of the best young prospects in the state of North Carolina. He performed strongly during the state playoffs as a freshman and parlayed that success into a solid showing at the 2008 Carolina Challenge. From there, he went on to a big sophomore year that culminated in an epic scoring showdown against future UNC signee Reggie Bullock.
UNC identified Hairston very early and hosted Hairston and his mother at numerous home games during Carolina's 2008-09 championship season. Williams offered him a scholarship in August 2009 and Hairston committed almost immediately in response.
As a junior Hairston began by posting prolific scoring numbers prior to getting sidelined by a rash of injuries. He returned in the spring to a series of uneven performances but turned the inconsistency around at the NBAPA Top 100 Camp, where he led all players in scoring.
He played his first three seasons at Dudley but finished his career at famed Hargrave Military Academy and established himself as that loaded team's best player.
Hairston's route to stardom followed one that's tried and true: he became renowned as a prime three-point shooter. My first look at Hairston was during the state playoffs his freshman season, and he confidently knocked in long jump shots — all the more impressive due to the stakes and his age.
I've made the comparison in the past between Hairston's jump shot and that of former Miami shooting ace Jack McClinton. Hairston is a wrist shooter and thus has a shorter follow through than most other players, and he doesn't need a lot of time or space to release his shot. Adding to his viability as a shooter is the fact that he elevates very nicely when his feet are set.
Over time Hairston's physical maturation has enabled him to become a genuine power wing. He uses his broad, muscular shoulders to bully through defenders and create space for short-range finishes. I've also been impressed — and a little surprised — that he has become more explosive athletically even when at one point he gained too much mass. He prefers to leap off one foot in transition and finishes with strong tomahawk slams, certainly the types of shots he'll get at UNC in the Tar Heels' transition game.
Though not celebrated as a lockdown defender, Hairston follows in the Danny Green mold of being a defensive playmaker. He is a very good straight-up leaper and utilizes those hops to block shots of taller players. One of the very best defensive plays I've ever seen transgressed against No. 1 prospect Michael Gilchrist with Hairston sliding over from the help side and rejecting Gilchrist's dunk attempt at peak elevation.
But beyond the physical characteristics described here, the most consistent and obvious aspect of Hairston's game is his set of intangibles. He's not just strong, he's tough; he gets the most out of his weapons and doesn't hesitate to force the issue. During his shooting struggles in the spring of 2010, he responded to that adversity by becoming a more determined driver.
I also like that he doesn't showboat to fans or get involved in mouthy nonsense with other players or officials. There's a stoic quality to his game that is sure to impress Carolina fans immediately upon his arrival to campus.
The most glaring need in Hairston's game is a tighter dribble, particularly with his left hand. Though ideally sized for a shooting guard, at this point he handles like a wing forward. For that reason he can be pressured or neutralized in halfcourt offense by a quick, lengthy defender.
He's also not a tremendously agile driver, so don't look for him to make slicing forays to the hoop and change direction sharply at full speed. For the same reason he also misses some chip shots simply because, for him, those shots feature a higher degree of difficulty.
But by far the sharpest criticism hurled his way adheres to a single theme: shot selection. Hairston isn't shy about looking for his shot and drew various complaints from other scouts and even a few parents at the NBPA Camp. He has exhibited a tendency to shoot very long — think 25 feet — threes early in a possession, particularly during his time at Dudley. Those poor shots dragged down his shooting percentage, and the added weight he gained at the time played a part as well.
Thanks to his strong senior season at Hargrave - fueled by focus and dedication to get into better shape - and some very impressive practice sessions leading up to the McDonald's All-American Game, Hairston established himself as a legitimate top-20 national prospect. I actually like him in the top 15, and with his mechanics and overall history making shots from long-range, it's very comfortable to consider him a legitimate zone-buster for the elite college level.
But while shooting may be Hairston's earliest contribution for the Heels, he has added those unanticipated wrinkles as well. Even if he never becomes an elite slasher, he's strong enough and athletic enough now that he is much more versatile than perimeter-only players. He'll also use his straight-up leaping ability — clearly the best kind to possess — to help out as a rebounder, always a high priority for wings playing for Roy Williams.
Moreover, Hairston brings a gritty, self-confident quality that will ramp up the team's intensity in practice. He won't back down from a challenge and won't allow himself to disengage mentally from competition.
For all those reasons I think he projects as a multiple-year starter even at a juggernaut program such as Carolina's. Because of those intangible qualities and his ability as a shooter, he may be more valuable to UNC than even his lofty ranking.
To become an actual star in college, Hairston must keep himself in ideal physical shape, improve his shot selection and upgrade his dribbling ability significantly.
But in the era of early scholarship offers and monstrous early reputations that fizzle over the course of players' prep careers, Hairston has validated his place both nationally and at UNC.
Rob provides basketball recruiting coverage for InsideCarolina.com, including reporting from events throughout the country. Rob is editor of the national basketball recruiting website PrepStars.com and the print magazine Recruiter's Handbook. He also covers UNC basketball games for the Independent Weekly, writes a freelance column for USAToday.com and is a member of the Naismith committee honoring the nation's best high school player and votes in the McDonald's All-American Game.