It’s been a complicated nine months for P.J Hairston.
Coming off a successful sophomore season where Hairston averaged 14.6 points per game for North Carolina, he faced a troublesome offseason that sparked an NCAA investigation involving his relationship with Haydn “Fats” Thomas.
First, Hairston was cited for speeding in May while driving a car that was rented using Thomas’ home address. He was then arrested and charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession while driving a different car that was rented by Thomas. Head coach Roy Williams suspended Hairston nine days later after he was cited for speeding while driving 93 miles per hour in a 65 mile per hour zone (Associated Press).
After an extensive investigation by the NCAA, the University of North Carolina eventually denied reinstating Hairston in late December, stating that he “made a number of mistakes that placed his eligibility at risk.” As a result, Hairston decided to enter the D-League where the Texas Legends claimed him off of waivers.
Hairston made his professional debut on Saturday against the Austin Toros where he showed promise of becoming an instant superstar in the D-League, that is, until he’s eligible for next year’s draft.
He entered the game with 3:03 left in the first quarter and immediately made an impact. Hairston converted on his first three field goals, two of which were three-pointers, and didn’t show any sort of rust despite the lengthy delay since his last organized game.
The 6-foot-6 shooting guard finished with a team-high 22 points (9-16 FG, 4-9 3FG) and six steals in 28 minutes of action to lead the Legends to a 109-99 victory that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated. He scored in a variety of ways, including high-flying dunks, mid-range jumpers, and his well-documented deep threes.
“I found a home here in Texas and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be here,” Hairston said in an interview for the D-League’s YouTube channel on Friday.
“What I can bring is just another shooter and another scorer and someone they can trust to put the ball in the basket.”
His self-evaluation proved to be true on Saturday. But not only did Hairston show himself as a premier scorer, but he hustled for loose balls, deflected passes, and showed just as much talent on the defensive end of the floor. His defense is what impressed point guard Mickey McConnell, who had 20 points and 10 assists for the Legends.
“He’s a great player and he comes from a great program, so obviously he knows how to do things the right way,” said McConnell. “We got a couple additions that have really helped us energy-wise defensively. I thought the best thing that he did was that he got his hands on a lot of passes and on defense he was great tonight.”
As a gifted scorer with his size and athletic ability, Hairston showed why he was regarded as a first round pick last season. If he can continue to play at this type of level while staying out of trouble, there’s no doubt that he can salvage his draft stock and become a 2014 first round selection. With an excellent debut, Hairston and the Texas Legends will be fun to follow for the rest of the D-League season.
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