Up Close: P.J. Hairston, Part III

Inside Carolina's Matt Morgan traveled to Greensboro to put together a four-part feature story on North Carolina junior commitment P.J. Hairston. Here's Part III ...

Part III
Straight Talk

GREENSBORO, N.C. --- Wendy Poteat is a people person.

During the day Poteat works as a recruiter for the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce. She gets up each morning and meets with potential employees, helping them set goals and find positions with local businesses. Poteat loves her job and considers herself lucky.

On game nights at Chester L. Bradley gym in Greensboro, Poteat is a popular mom. Before a contest against Southern Alamance, Poteat, often the national anthem singer at Dudley, takes a night away from the mic but not from basketball. Seated in the third row her exuberant personality recruits smiles, not clients, as she talks basketball with the people around her.

"Brennan Wyatt, right there, he's committed to play at Navy," Poteat said, pointing to the Dudley guard. "That school fits him perfectly."

After a substitution for Wyatt, Poteat points to pint-sized backup point guard Desean Manuel.

"If he was five inches taller, he'd play in the ACC," Poteat said. "That kid has heart. If it were up to me, I'd put him on my team."

But Wyatt and Manuel aren't why Poteat is here. She's here to see her son, P.J. Hairston . In his high school career, she can't remember a game she's missed.

"I think he's very strong. I think he's a very good basketball player," Poteat said, giving the rundown on her son just like she did with Wyatt and Manuel. "I think he needs to work on his ball handling, work on his mid-range game and getting more to the basket. Not just shooting, but completely rounding out his whole game."

Poteat and her son have a special relationship. She had P.J. when she was 19 years old, just a few months after her parents died, and had to raise her son along with her 14-year old brother by herself. Poteat likes to say they all grew up together.

As a result, Poteat and Hairston are extremely close. The two play off each other well, with the son playing the role of the straight shooter.

"She's a very funny lady," Hairston said with a hint of a smile. "She's very energetic."

With the closeness also comes an increased level of honesty with each other, even about basketball. Poteat remembers a few months ago someone approaching her about a story written about Hairston, critiquing his play after a game.

"They said how awful it was. I thought it was the best article I'd ever read about him," Poteat laughed as she watched her son warm up. "I didn't think he played well either."

Hairston now shares the spotlight with brothers William, 9, and Walter, 5, but he's still very much a product of his two parents. He gets his laid-back tone and toughness from step dad William Turner and his no-nonsense attitude from Poteat.

Not surprisingly, Hairston is up front about his shortcomings on the court. He doesn't pay much attention to rankings but he addresses what he needs to get better at and works on it every day.

"To tell you the truth, the rankings don't really affect me," Hairston said. "I know I'm better than most people on the rankings list. It's just what people think. It's what the scouting services think. I don't really look at the rankings to determine how good of a player I am because I can be as good as I want to be. If I wanted to be, I could be the No. 1 player on the list. It's just your work ethic."

Over the summer, it was Hairston's mid-range game that needed the most work. When he wasn't traveling for AAU, he spent his time 15 feet from the basket, coming off curls and knocking down jumpers. If there's a reason behind his scoring explosion this season, it's been his expanded mid-range game. Against Southern Durham this year, Hairston scored 53 of his team's 112 points and was 9-for-11 from inside the arc.

With his mid-range shot shored up, Hairston turned his focus to his ball-handling. Each day before practice and games, Hairston spends 10 minutes dribbling with two balls, trying to tighten up his handle.

"I'm the kind of person who is always up to do something," Hairston said. "I'm always up for a challenge."

With D-I players like Brendan Haywood, William Graves and Kevin Swinton coming through the Dudley program, head coach David Price has seen a lot of talented players up close. But he says those extra 10 minutes are what separates Hairston from the rest.

"He brings it every day," Price said. "I've had players before where, not that they wouldn't go hard in practice, but it wasn't the same intensity. On game night, their game went to a whole other level. His is the same every day in practice."

(Check back tomorrow for Part IV ...)

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