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DeCock: Hairston’s bad decisions put Tar Heels’ season at risk

By Luke DeCock - staff columnist
ldecock@newsobserver.com
Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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So what does P.J. Hairston do for an encore? Pour sugar in Roy Williams’ gas tank? Splash his name in red paint on the Smith Center? Crash a borrowed rental car into the bell tower?

Williams’ patience in Hairston has been exhausted. That much was clear from the timing of the press release announcing Hairston’s indefinite suspension, only hours after he was cited for speeding and reckless driving Sunday.

There was no waiting for Monday morning, no waiting for the smoke to clear. That sucker went out at 11 p.m. on a Sunday night. Retribution was swift and immediate.

If Williams had been willing to give Hairston the benefit of the doubt to this point, the latest traffic conviction clearly changes the playing field.

“There are several options available in terms of discipline,” Williams said in his last statement on the matter, “but we are going to wait until the process is complete to decide on those options.”

He isn’t waiting any longer.

Whatever boundaries Williams might have been willing to stretch have been broken. Whatever leniency he might have conjured for his leading scorer is vanishing. Hairston is no doubt going to face far stiffer punishment than he would have before his joyride Sunday, and now the Tar Heels are really going to suffer for it.

They need Hairston desperately, not only as their leading scorer after assuming a starring role midway through last season but as their best outside shooter and their best scoring threat on the wing with Reggie Bullock’s early departure to the NBA.

The next option is J.P. Tokoto, used sparingly as a freshman and more an unpolished athlete than a shooter/scorer. Leslie McDonald can fill that spot, but that means moving Marcus Paige to shooting guard and playing freshman Nate Britt at the point. Who’s next? Jackson Simmons? Hardly ideal.

It’s just not a position where the Tar Heels had much depth to start, which makes Hairston’s Summer of Boneheadedness all the more damaging. Given Williams’ earlier position, Hairston is going to have to sit out longer than the five to 10 games the NCAA will likely require for his rental-car borrowing. It may end up being a healthy chunk of the season.

Of course, Hairston’s transgressions, taken individually, don’t amount to much. A traffic ticket here, an apparent secondary NCAA violation there, drug charges that already have been dismissed. Other than the loaded gun found outside Hairston’s borrowed rental car, for which he was never charged anyway, it’s all pretty trivial stuff.

Taken collectively, it’s embarrassing for Hairston, embarrassing for Williams and embarrassing for a university that’s desperately trying to erase its new image as a school where athletics is allowed to run amok.

It’s all too much: the football scandal, the academic scandal, and now a basketball player who appears to have little regard for his own safety, his teammates or his university.

Normally, you might say someone needs to talk to Hairston, sit him down, read him the riot act. But that clearly already happened, and it didn’t change anything. It’s hard to reconcile these continuing bad decisions with the charming, unfiltered Hairston who was revealed to the press and to the public as his role increased last season.

Hairston’s latest error of judgment has put Williams in a tough spot. He promised “serious consequences” before. After Sunday, he has few options left, and all of them will do significant damage to the Tar Heels’ chances on the court.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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