Draft Combine Q&A: P.J. Hairston

CHICAGO --- P.J. Hairston is attending the NBA Draft Combine this week, looking to cement his status as a first round pick in next month's draft. He spoke about his rocky journey and remaining Tar Heel ties ...

What is the experience like going through the D-League?

You play against other pro guys, guys that have played in the NBA that were sent down to play in the D-League for a few games. For example, I had Bernard James, Jae Crowder and Shane Larkin come down and play on our team, and just playing with those guys, you can tell what their mentality was and how they have such a pro outlook on things and how they see the game. And playing against (certain) guys. One of the best defenders in the D-League was DeAndre Liggins and he guarded me and he played for OKC a couple years. Just playing against guys like that prepares you for the next level.

Is playing in the D-League more valuable than playing against college guys?

It's a professional league, it's not college. You don't have anyone holding your hand telling you not to shoot this or not to shoot that. It's basically up to you. You're a man and you have to take care of your business on the court.

Did you feel like you grew as a player by playing in the D-League?

Definitely. In Texas I put the ball on the floor a lot more. I became a better finisher. Not perfect, but a better finisher. That's one of the things I'm working on. Taking the ball the length of the court for coast-to-coast finishes. Things that I didn't do a lot at North Carolina (I focused on) in Texas. It's led to my improvement and helped me be a more versatile player.

What did you learn in the D-League and is the D-League a good place for younger players to develop before the draft?

It all depends on that player. Some kids want to stay all four years in college. Some kids don't want to go to college at all. Some kids want to be one-and-done. So it all depends on that player and what they want to do. My (D-League decision) wasn't by choice at all, so I can't really speak on what another person would do. It's healthy (because) there's an alternative because it's another way to get better. You have coaches that have played in the NBA. My coach was (Eduardo) Najera and he played in the league for a long time. So his voice helped because he knew the game and he's played against some of the best. So he knows what to expect. Things like that really help you if you take that path.

Do you think the D-League was a positive experience to go through?

I would say "no" and "yes." I would say "no" because I wasn't supposed to be in the D-League; I was supposed to be in college. But at the end of the day, yes, it helped me a lot and the Texas Legends helped me and accepted me and they could have easily passed me along and said, 'No, we don't want him here.' They accepted me and I was thankful for that opportunity just to play basketball again. When I got there I wanted to work as hard as I could.

How was Roy Williams during this process?

He's always been supportive. I talked to him about two weeks ago and he called me and told me that when my name was called he was going to be there and he'd be there for me. Just having a guy like that and a coach like that by your side at all times is just great.

Has Roy Williams supported you throughout this whole process?

He's always been by my side. Even during the whole process that happened he and my Mom were the only two that were by my side and talked with me and helped me through things and gave me advice. Having him by my side really helped me. I didn't get down on myself, I didn't lose confidence in myself and at the same time, he was my uplift and helped me out a lot.

How do you think this NCAA situation has made you stronger?

When I was told I couldn't play it was probably the worst thing I could hear in my life. But at the same time, I couldn't sob and cry and be mad and sit around by myself. I had to figure out what my next step was. Transferring was an option but I couldn't really do that. Overseas was an option but I couldn't take my online courses and classes and graduate on time. So the D-League was my last option where I could still take my courses and graduate on time.

Was the NCAA decision a shock to you?

It was a real big shock. Of course I was expecting, 'P.J., 8-to-10 games and you'll be back.' It was probably the worst news of my life.

You mentioned taking classes and continuing with your education, is that still a focus for you?

I took a communications class this spring and I actually got a B+ in the class. That's my main thing. I really want to graduate and have a degree. They say the ball stops bouncing one day and I always want something to fall back on and have a good job and be like you (media) guys.

What was it like watching North Carolina play this season and watching Marcus Paige grow as a player?

I thought about it. A lot. Of course sitting on the bench when I was there it seemed like they were fine and everything was going okay. Then conference play started and they went 0-3 and everyone was like, 'Oh where's P.J.?' and I called Marcus myself, personally, and I told him, 'You have to lead the team. This is your team now,' -- this is when they were 0-3 in the conference. And I said, 'You and (James Michael McAdoo) have to lead this team.' It hurt a little watching them play and struggle, but at the same time, I'm not there. So they know that it's all about them and it's North Carolina basketball.

How often did you watch Carolina play this season?

I watched them every chance I could. A lot of times they played while my games were going on, so I would record them and then watch them. But it was hard watching them. I actually watched both Duke games. I was watching the first one in Delaware and we had a game and the second one I was actually back in Texas, where I was able to watch that one. Just watching them play, knowing that those are the guys I played with last year, it hurts deep down. But at the same time, I'm proud. Even though they didn't have [me], they still made the NCAA Tournament and they still showed that they could win.

What's your relationship like with the team since you left?

The team is fine. I'm in a group chat with everybody. I still keep in contact with everybody. Me and [James Michael McAdoo] actually shared some laughs yesterday when he first got here. And I talk to Brice (Johnson) and Leslie (McDonald) a lot. So with Leslie I actually talk to him a lot now because he wants to come up to Chicago and work out with me. Just having that chemistry that we had when I was there, it really didn't die down. They knew who I really was and the stuff that happened was just a mistake and they didn't throw that in my face. They were there for me. Just having friends and family and coaches that are by your side, it really helps.

You mentioned watching the team play, did the team get a chance to watch you play (in the D-League)?

They did a few times. It's kind of hard to catch D-League games being on YouTube, so you have to be on the computer, and sometimes maybe it'll be on NBATV. So it's kind of hard to catch them and I don't blame them if they couldn't see the games. But sometimes they did watch it and I know they watched the game when I had 45 (points) and I immediately had a million texts after that one from everybody after the game. So knowing that I still had their support was good for me.

Which teams have you interviewed with so far?

Last night I met with the Clippers, the Lakers and the Utah Jazz so that was really good.

What has the feedback been like from NBA teams regarding the off-the-court incidents?

They just want to know; they want to know what happened that day. And it's up to me to honest with them and straight-up with them and tell them. I feel like that I can do that now and I can look at it and it's in the past. Now I can sit back and talk about it in a closed setting and feel like I can let that out when I need to.

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