CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — P.J. Hairston has had a rather tumultuous summer that included a drug arrest, possibly receiving illegal benefits in the form of rental cars and speeding violations as well. He was suspended indefinitely on July 28.
But North Carolina head coach Roy Williams announced on Thursday via a release distributed to reporters minutes before UNC’s basketball media day began that the junior guard has “earned the opportunity” to practice with the team once practice begins Friday.
“In 26 years as a head coach, I’ve never made the demands on a young man that I have made of P.J.,” Williams said in the release.
“To his credit, he has 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.”
Hairston wasn’t made available to reporters, but he made a statement in the release as well.
“I am so sorry for the mistakes that I made that brought such negative attention to the team, the University of North Carolina and my family. … 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,” Hairston said. “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, my 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.”
Williams expanded on the release when he spoke to reporters Thursday afternoon, saying that he had not spoken to the NCAA or Fats Thomas, the person whose name was on the rental car Hairston was arrested in on June 5. He also said he had no idea who Thomas was prior to the incident and still didn’t know what Thomas looked like.
“Have I been in contact (with the NCAA)? No. We have a compliance office and people that do those kinds of things, and they frown on coaches talking to NCAA members,” Williams said. “I don’t know (Thomas), haven’t spoken to the guy and don’t think it’s appropriate because again, as I said earlier, I don’t know what the NCAA’s doing. They haven’t asked me anything about that whatsoever.”
Williams also said that he learned of both incidents before they were reported (the drug arrest and the speeding ticket) via a phone call.
It won’t be a distraction to have Hairston in practice, according to sophomore point guard Marcus Paige.
“It’s not going to be awkward. He’s our teammate. We’ve been working out with him,” Paige said. “He’s been working out, he’s been doing all the conditioning stuff with us, and we obviously love to have him in practice … We know we’re going to have eventually, so it’s good to have him around as much as possible.”
As for Hairston’s internal discipline: In spite of his status as an upperclassman, he won’t be consulted when it comes to making team decisions and “he cannot be a leader.” He also won’t be on the cover of UNC’s media guide this year.
Williams said that other than sitting him out for games or “sending him to outer space,” there’s not much more a coach can do — except make the player run. A lot. Hairston has done three times more conditioning than anyone on the roster, according to Williams. He’s done everything everyone else on the roster has done, plus 18 extra days’ worth.
It was so much extra, in fact, that Williams said he asked one of his staff if anyone else on the team could’ve done it and he said ‘no.’
Sophomore center Joel James agreed with that.
“No, hands down, no,” James said, when asked if he could do what Hairston has done. “I don’t think anyone on this team could. But that’s why he’s such a special athlete.
“He can do these things no one else can do and he makes them look easy. He just has a gift, and it’s up to him to use that gift in a positive way. The choice is his.”
If it’s up to Williams, Hairston will play at some point this season. The only question left is when.
“There’s no question in my mind (he will play),” Williams said. “If he wasn’t going to play, why would I run him to death? I don’t do that just to get macho feelings about how tough I am. But he will play.”