There comes a point in everyone's life where we end up at a crossroad, and have to decide which path is the right one for us. For P.J. Hairston, that time has come.
After a stellar season with the North Carolina Tar Heels, Hairston is now eying the 2013 NBA draft. The sophomore guard still has two years of eligibility left at Chapel Hill, but that is simply not how things work these days.
UNC fans know that all too well, after losing a junior and two sophomores to the pros in 2012.
As many reasons as there are to leave, there are just as many—if not more—reasons to continue donning Carolina Blue. Over the next few slides, I'll break down both options and come to a conclusion.
No reason to thank me, P.J. I'm just doing my job.
Isn't the shortcut always the most enticing path? It gets you where you want to go without wasting all that precious time.
With Hairston's aggressiveness, intensity, drive and unquestionable natural ability, he could succeed in the NBA without playing another season in Chapel Hill. He has a smooth, effortless stroke and excellent instincts on the defensive end.
Hairston could stand some fine-tuning on his fundamentals and skill set, but his emergence this season shows that he could be a quick study at the next level.
He led the Tar Heels with 14.6 points per game, despite only starting 14 of them. In those starts, Hairston was averaging 18.2 points and reached 20-plus points six times. By the end of the season, it was clear who the go-to guy was at Carolina.
This, after a forgettable freshman year in which he shot 30.8 percent from the floor and 27.3 percent from three.
Hairston finished his sophomore campaign shooting 43.1 percent from the field and 39.6 percent from downtown. No matter how you look at it, that's a pretty big leap.
In addition to his points, Hairston also contributed with 4.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game. There is a lot of value in a guy that help out in that many areas of the game.
ESPN's Chad Ford ranks Hairston No. 38 on his Top 100, and is projecting him to be a late first-round pick. That could land him on a team that might just be missing a piece like Hairston to make a title run.
Couple that with a guaranteed contract, and this looks like a pretty smart path.
Not all shortcuts are created equal. Remember the one you wish you never took, that ended up being more laborious than the "long" route you were avoiding?
That's the harsh reality of many early entrants in the NBA.
As a late-round pick, he could end up on a very good team with a spot open at the end of the bench. His highlight of the season ends up being a dunk he threw down in practice.
Eventually he is pushed to another team that doesn't need him, and the cycle could go on throughout his entire NBA career.
As skilled as Hairston is, he still needs to expand his offensive repertoire with improved handles and a solid mid-range game to compete at the NBA level. He won't be a star as a shooter and an occasional dunker.
And though he has the potential to develop those things over the summer, he won't just be handed a starting spot. Just as the last crew that left.
Harrison Barnes is the only UNC rookie that started from Day 1, even though all of them were picked in the top 20. Kendall Marshall spent time in the D-League, Tyler Zeller needed an Anderson Varejao injury to land a starting role and John Henson's coach can't make up his mind what he wants to do with him.
Nothing is a sure bet when it comes to the NBA, and the only way to guarantee success is to prepare yourself as much as possible.
Staying at North Carolina for another season may be the longer path, but it could be the most fruitful.
As a returner, P.J. Hairston would spend the entire 2013-14 season as a starter on a solid, much more experienced Tar Heels squad—especially if Reggie Bullock and James Michael McAdoo decide to stay. The team would be ranked very high in the preseason, and this time it would be warranted.
There will be some other stacked programs next season, but the Tar Heels would at least be title contenders once again. Coming back paid off well for the 2009 team, and 2014 could very well have the same happy ending.
No matter the finish, though, Hairston would have time to develop his game as the go-to guy at North Carolina.
His dribbles are OK, but he definitely needs to become more fluid and add some moves like a solid crossover or a behind-the-back dribble. While he's working on his handles, he also needs to develop a pull-up jumper or floater for when the lanes close up.
As he adds more dimension to his game, everything will come easier for Hairston. Scouts and NBA executives will also start paying more attention, and he could easily earn himself a slot in the lottery.
That may not guarantee him a starting spot, but it will guarantee a little financial security.
Few things are worse than taking the long path for security and ending up stuck in a construction zone. That could also be the reality for Hairston if he stays.
I'm sure Hairston's decision will be slightly based on what the other guys do. If Bullock and McAdoo enter the NBA draft, I don't imagine Hairston coming back for more of what we saw in 2012-13.
It could happen, though. Or they could all come back and end up flopping their way through the 2013-14 season.
Even worse, Hairston could end up with a major injury that costs him another year—or possibly even his career. This past season, he sprained his knee, got a concussion and tore the webbing between his fingers.
Are those omens? Or are they just random, pesky injuries?
And what if he has a repeat of his freshman season? That could be equally catastrophic as a season-ending injury. He wants his first year to be considered the fluke—not his second.
Many bad things could come from another season at Carolina, which makes this such a tough choice.
As many of us have found out, the longer path is usually the right one. I believe that is no different in the case of P.J. Hairston.
This team really seemed to bond as the season progressed, and Hairston will no longer have a wet-behind-the-ears freshman dishing him the ball. Marcus Paige stepped up his game down the final stretch, and one has to imagine he will be in for a stellar sophomore campaign with a weapon like Hairston.
Not only will Hairston have the time to improve in the areas of his game I mentioned, but a solid point guard always makes his teammates look even better. These two could be very fun to watch in their second year together, and I have no doubt the scouts and NBA executives will feel the same way.
The only thing to be concerned about with another year at Carolina is a major injury or a repeat of his freshman season. The latter he has control over, and his mutant-like regenerative capabilities will probably keep him on the floor.
Even with the three injuries mentioned, he only missed two games.
I have no doubt that another season in Chapel Hill will be the best path for P.J. Hairston. For Hairston's sake, let's hope whatever decision he makes turns out to be the right one.
For UNC's sake, let's hope that means one more year in Chapel Hill.