North Carolina Basketball: Why P.J. Hairston Is Poised for a Huge Season

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North Carolina Basketball: Why P.J. Hairston Is Poised for a Huge Season
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Well, he can't get much worse.

P.J. Hairston had a dismal freshman campaign with the North Carolina Tar Heels in 2011-12. The 5-star shooting guard from Hargrave Military Academy finished the season shooting 30.8 percent from the floor and 27.3 percent from downtown.

I don't think that's what Roy Williams was looking for when he recruited the No. 3-ranked shooting guard—only behind first-round draftees Austin Rivers and Bradley Beal in the 2011 ESPN 100.

The past is the past, though. Hairston is ready to look ahead to 2012 and put his name back on the map.

“Me, Reggie, (Leslie) and Strick talked about it. The post (players) are going to be kind of young, so we’re going to have to do some things this year,” Hairston said, according to The Herald-Sun.

He was right on the money with that statement. I haven't seen much of an offensive post presence from James Michael McAdoo thus far, and freshman Joel James is still developing that aspect of his game.

UNC will need stellar play on the wing—and Hairston must be a big part of that.

At 6'6” and 220 pounds, Hairston has an obvious size advantage at the 2. But with six guards and only a freshman small forward on the current roster, he will likely get most of his production from the 3 in 2012.

Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

Though he doesn't have quite the height advantage in his possible new position, he does have the meat to bang on the inside—something else we expected from him last year that was non-existent.

Along with his stroke, penetration is something Hairston has focused on during the offseason and has repeatedly displayed at the NC Pro-Am. Hairston uses his mass to absorb contact and finish at the rim. He also has surprisingly good springs to get on top of defenders.

That combination of physicality and ups can be lethal, as Julien Lewis of Texas found out last season.

Hairston was hesitant to drive in his limited time on the floor last year. But that is something former Tar Heel and NBA star Rasheed Wallace has been pushing him to do. And when Sheed speaks, you better listen.

Hairston had this to say of Wallace, according to Sporting News:

“He’s a big voice, just a big voice. He’s screaming at us, always looking for us to get out and run. And if we do something wrong, he’ll tell us to fix it. And if we do it again, he’ll yell at us. He’s kind of like a father figure and like a coach at the same time.”

And it would appear Hairston is completely on board with the idea of staying aggressive.

“It puts more pressure on the defense. They know I can shoot already, so they already pressure up on me. And if I go past them, it’ll confuse them and they won’t know what to do after that.”

He did end up hurting his shoulder early in the Pro-Am, but it doesn't appear Carolina's injury bug will hinder Hairston this season. “I wouldn’t say it’s 100 percent, but it’s not bothering me at all,” Hairston went on to say in the interview. “I still ice it after I’m at the gym and I’ll go in the hot tub, but otherwise it’s fine.”

Hairston is becoming more versatile and his game is truly rounding into form. And speaking of form, he has the advantage of being able to take shooting advice from the most accurate sharpshooter in UNC history—third in NBA history.

Hubert Davis was a career 44.1 percent shooter beyond the NBA arc. I think he may know a little bit about shooting, and that is advice Hairston simply won't ignore.

According to Robbi Pickeral at ESPN, Hairston had this to say of his new assistant coach's advice:

“Knowing that he was one of the best shooters at the NBA, I kind of took every bit of advice from him. Because coming from a shooter to a shooter, he knows much more than I do about shooting, and shooter perfection. … He basically told me my shot looks good, I just basically have a habit of kicking my foot out sometimes, and that would cause my shot to be short. [He would tell me] stuff like that, and then I’d go back and work on it.”

Former Tar Heel greats aren't the only people in Hairston's ear. His mother had a little piece of advice for him, too. And there's nothing quite as effective as a swift motherly kick in the butt.

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“I just called her one day, asked her, ‘What do I need to do?’ I was in the gym, I was doing everything I needed to do to get my shot right. She said, ‘You need to get your priorities straight, that has to be your No. 1 priority, other than school.’ She said, ‘You stay in the gym, get your shots up, get at least 500 shots up, but you have to do that yourself. … You’re grown now, you have to do these things on your own.’ And I thought about it, and thought, ‘She’s right. '”

She is right. And it's good to see Hairston has put in the work this offseason to step up his game.

He was a star out of high school, averaging 25.6 points, 9.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists in his senior year. Sometimes, going from that level of play to riding the pine at a major program can toy with one's mentality and focus—something McAdoo also fought with.

But it is a new season, and there is no looking back for P.J. Hairston. He is poised to prove Coach Williams got it right by choosing him.

Hairston has the talent to be a prime-time player at this level. And now he has the mentality and focus to execute it on the floor.

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