UNC Basketball: P.J. Hairston Has the Law, NCAA and Perception to Beat

C.J. MooreCollege Basketball National Lead WriterJune 24, 2013

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 24:  P.J. Hairston #15 of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks on dejected as he returns to the bench in the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks during the third round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Sprint Center on March 24, 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images

This is what I remember from the three minutes I spent around P.J. Hairston on the final night of North Carolina's season.

The Tar Heels had just lost to Kansas and Hairston stood about five feet in front of his locker with his cell phone in his hand. Reporters, myself included, waited for Hairston to finish whatever it was he was doing so we could ask our questions.

Eventually, Hairston tossed his phone to the side and mumbled his way through some answers with an "I'm mad at the world" look on his face.

It's not fair to judge someone's character based off three minutes of interaction. All players react to season-ending losses differently. Being concerned with what is on your phone is not how most react, but it's not like Hairston was providing a window into his soul.

That's not enough evidence to conclude that Hairston is a crummy guy. However, when adding it to how Hairston has spent his offseason and some clues from last year, the picture starts to clear up.

Perception doesn't seem to concern Hairston.

Let's review, quickly, what we know from the last month.

First, Hairston was caught driving around a rental car without a license with marijuana inside the vehicle and a gun tossed outside the vehicle. Some college athletes smoke weed. Getting caught is not good, but it'll typically result in increased drug testing, some extra running and, depending on the coach, a short suspension.

Carrying around a gun? There's not a lot of precedent on how to deal with that.

Roy Williams did the right thing by telling USA Today last week that he was going to wait on all the facts. Let the judicial system do its thing.

Now, Williams might not have to wait on that. The NCAA could step in. On Friday, The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre reported that the NCAA is looking into the relationship between Hairston and wannabe agent Rodney Blackstock, the ethically-oblivious runner who USA Today reported recently gave cash to Ben McLemore's AAU coach.

This alone would be bad for Hairston. And it only gets worse. Gary Parrish cited a source telling CBSSports.com that the NCAA would like to know if Blackstock is connected to the rental car Hairston was driving on the night of his arrest.

Here's where I make a leap, and the past month has provided enough idiocy on Hairston's part that it's fair to begin to think this way.

It took Williams until midway through February to start the guy who would end up leading the Tar Heels in scoring. The hesitation, it was believed at the time, was that Williams didn't want to go small.

"Nobody knows my team. But it's popular to say who the (heck's) supposed to be in the lineup and you don't know what the dickens you're talking about," Williams told The News & Observer after Hairston's first start.

Was it a hesitancy to start Hairston or a hesitancy to go small?

Williams also told The News & Observer that a lack of hustle was the reason for Hairston's lack of minutes in a loss at North Carolina State.

Once Hairston did start and got minutes over the final 13 games, he averaged 18.2 points and shot 40.2 percent from deep. He was UNC's best player. He would be the best player returning.

But the fact that it took so long for Williams to give in and start Hairston last year suggests this summer is not the first time the coach has had to question the character of his star player.

Hairston has Williams and his teammates in the peculiar position of not knowing mid-summer whether their star will be with the team or wearing a scarlet letter around Chapel Hill.

That's a shame, because Hairston is a special talent. He made what looked at the time like a mature decision to return to school.

With him, UNC is somewhere close to a Top 10 team. Without him, the Heels are borderline Top 25.

I'd like to see Hairston become a redemption story instead of a waste. In the legal system, he's still innocent until proven guilty, but he's earned his perception until he proves otherwise.