Back to Basketball

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – With music blaring from the Smith Center speakers, P.J. Hairston stepped through the curtain and onto the Late Night stage.

In previous years, the junior from Greensboro, N.C. might have danced or pounded his chest.

On Friday night, Hairston simply touched his heart and waved to the fans, who chanted his name and cheered him louder than any other player.

After an offseason of NCAA involvement, police reports and a to-be-determined suspension, Hairston was just happy to get back to basketball.

"I think (the positive reception) was something he probably appreciated, I did too," Roy Williams said. "He's had a tough, tough time - the majority of it caused by himself."

During the Tar Heels' 20-minute Blue-White scrimmage that concluded Friday's festivities, Hairston led all scorers with 20 points. He hit his first two shots – on his team's first two possessions – from long-range on assists from freshman point guard Nate Britt.

"Honestly I don't think I've ever been shocked to see P.J. put it up," Marcus Paige said. "When he's in rhythm and puts it up with his feet squared, you can pretty much chalk it up. And when he hits one that's when he really gets going and feeling it."

Hairston added two more threes, some mid-range baskets off the dribble, plus a highlight dunk in transition.

"He embraced it, it was good to see him smile," Joel James said. "Good to hear people chanting his name, it was great to see."

Added Paige: "This is a release for him, to put everything past him for the summer. When he's on the court he's doing what he loves to do and he gets to not think about all the stuff and just play basketball. It was good for him and good for everyone to enjoy P.J. the basketball player and don't worry about all the other stuff."

Williams has raved throughout the preseason about Hairston's work ethic and willingness to do whatever the coaches asked him to do to get back on the court. That sentiment has been echoed by his teammates.

"He's looked good," Paige said. "He's in good shape, he's shooting the ball well, he's got great elevation on his jump shot. You can see he's trying to do other things, too - hit the boards, mix it up and try to get in the paint off the dribble."

With two weeks before the Tar Heels' season opener against Oakland, Williams said he's not yet ready to determine the length of Hairston's suspension.

"I'm closer (to making a decision), but I'm not getting ready to make it," Williams said. "We've just got to wait to see how some things play out; he's got to do some more things. Needless to say he's happy to be playing basketball and doing the things he's doing. He's been sensational."

Inside Carolina Top Stories