This summer wasn't a pleasant one for the North Carolina Tar Heels and their star wing, P.J. Hairston. In the span of three months, the junior was busted three times by the other boys in blue—and I don't mean Duke.
First it was speeding; then possession of marijuana; then speeding again, which led to his indefinite suspension. On top of it all, Hairston was driving a rental car in the first two busts, which has placed him under investigation for improper benefits.
Two months ago, I wasn't sure if Hairston would play at UNC again. I had lost respect for one of the players I've enjoyed watching the most over the last year. Not because of what the incidents involved; rather, it was because it appeared he didn't care.
Who gets off on pot possession and then gets busted for reckless driving the same week? That showed disrespect for his coach, the program and his family.
But deep inside, I knew Hairston was a better kid than this. He is a certified, self-proclaimed "Momma's Boy" with a love for his family, coach, program and a fiery passion for the game of basketball.
Kids do make mistakes, and those mistakes shouldn't be held over their heads for life. That doesn't mean they don't need to apologize for them.
Today, P.J. Hairston took that first crucial step in mending his relationship with the entire Tar Heel community. GoHeels.com released his statement this afternoon:
I am so sorry for the mistakes I made that brought such negative attention to the team, the University of North Carolina and my family. That's not how I was brought up and it's certainly not how Coach Williams expects us to represent this program. I know I let a lot of people down, including our fans and all the people who love not just the basketball team but UNC. I will do whatever I can to regain your faith in me and make sure that I represent the school and the Tar Heels with respect in the future. I appreciate Coach Williams giving me another chance to show that I can and will make better choices and decisions. I owe it to my mom, my dad, my coaches and teammates and every Tar Heel out there to make you proud to have me play basketball for Carolina. It was my dream as a kid and I would love more than anything to have that chance once again.
This is probably the happiest news of the summer for the Carolina faithful. Some statements come off as empty and simply written for show. Maybe that's what we would have received if he released a statement immediately after his suspension.
This one, however, comes across as genuine. Hairston has had time to think about everything he has done and how his actions have affected so many.
If that isn't enough, just read what Coach Williams had to say about his young star:
In 26 years as a head coach, I've never made the demands on a young man that I have made of P.J. To his credit, he accepted them without question. This is just the first step towards permanently earning his place back on the roster. He will have to sit out some games, but we haven't yet determined how many that will be.
P.J. has done, to this point, everything he's been asked to do, and done it with an outstanding attitude and a sense of remorse for his actions which put him in this position. He knows he made a series of mistakes and understands very clearly that he embarrassed his family, our program and the University. But he's worked hard to get to where he could once again practice with the team.
Point guard Marcus Paige also spoke out this week, indicating to ESPN that the team is ready to move on and get their go-to scorer back on the court: "We've moved on. He's working out with us, and we still accept him. It was a big deal in the media, but we're pretty confident everyone has moved past it. We can't wait to get him back—whenever it is."
Hairston is now showing signs of maturity. Between his loving family, a wise Hall of Fame coach and a great group of teammates, he certainly has the support staff he needs to move on from this and come out a better man than he was before.
P.J. Hairston has earned the right to join the team when they officially start practice tomorrow, and I couldn't be happier about that.
Admittedly, I'm a bit of a softy, so I'm sure there are some people out there that will never forgive Hairston for what he has done. To each his own.
But for those of you that can forgive, feel free to show P.J. he has the support of his fanbase in the comments below. People can never have too much support, and we can never show too much love.
Life is way too short for that. Welcome back to the fam', P.J.