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Former Tar Heel P.J. Hairston auditions for Charlotte Hornets

Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for more than 20 years and has been at the paper for more than 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/06/04/19/51/1qNWOJ.Em.138.jpeg|316
    David T. Foster, III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
    Former North Carolina shooting guard P.J. Hairston passes the ball during a Charlotte Hornets pre-draft workout session at the practice Wednesday.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/06/04/19/51/RqVMo.Em.138.jpeg|221
    David T. Foster, III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
    Former North Carolina shooting guard P.J. Hairston went through a Charlotte Hornets pre-draft workout session on Wednesday.

P.J. Hairston is at the top of the key Wednesday morning after his audition for the Charlotte Hornets. He stands beyond the 3-point line and shoots.

One, two, three, four, the baskets come easily and seemingly without effort.

When practice ends Hairston, 21, meets the media. As he talks, his back is against the wall.

He ought to be accustomed to it. Hairston, a junior, was dismissed from the North Carolina basketball team in December for accepting improper benefits, specifically rental cars from Fats Thomas, a convicted felon. He joined the NBA’s Development League in January, and in 26 games hit 73 3-point baskets.

At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Hairston is built like a football player. But he’s quick, can take defenders off the dribble and his shot, as he demonstrated earlier, is natural and easy. And he’s from Greensboro.

“I would love to play here at home, basically home, an hour, hour and a half from Greensboro,” says Hairston.

Let’s make that an hour and a half, OK? Hairston was charged with driving 93 in a 65 mph zone on I-85 in Rowan County. If he’s driving at legal speeds, he probably would require 90 minutes to get home.

“At the same time it would be a focusing process,” Hairston says about playing so closely to the city in which he grew up and the town in which he played college ball. “And I would have to be able to focus and that wouldn’t be a hard thing for me to do because I feel like if I got the opportunity to play here that I would take full advantage of it.”

I hope Hairston gets the opportunity to play for Charlotte. The Hornets are not going to take him with the ninth pick in the NBA draft. The Hornets also have the 24th pick and Hairston might be gone by then. He has lottery-pick talent. But concerns about his character likely will knock him out of the lottery. If Hairston is available at 24, the Hornets ought to jump. And if they need to slide up a few spots to take him, I’d love to see them do it.

I ask Hairston if he’s aware Charlotte could use an outside shooter, knowing that he knows.

“Yeah, they told me a couple times I can shoot,” says Hairston. “I don’t really pay attention to mock drafts and that stuff. I just kind of come out and try to play my hardest every day and show what I can do.”

What can you do?

“I wanted to show that I could pass the ball,” he says about his audition. “Because I’ve heard that people say I can’t pass the ball well. So I showed I can share the ball a lot and bring the ball up the court, do different things I normally don’t do.”

Hairston says the Development League educated him. He says he asked questions of veterans that know the game much better than he does. But more than talk, he wanted to play. After being suspended the first 10 games of the college season, he just wanted to play.

“I was just ready to touch the court,” says Hairston. “I didn’t really care where. I could be playing in the heart of Alaska.”

He says he wanted to show prospective employers his love for the game. He says that when he’s on the floor he’s a “totally different person.”

Asked about his troubles at North Carolina, Hairston says “It’s the past. I’m just thankful for this opportunity, that these teams let me come work out and be able to join the great players at the NBA Combine. Just being able to be here is one of the biggest things for me.”

Did the Development League make him a better player?

Hairston says what he’s supposed to say, that it did.

He adds: “I also feel like I’m a better person and I’ve matured a lot more because in the D League I was living on my own and had to get used to being by myself and kind of making my own decisions. It really showed how much I’ve matured in the past three, four months and it helped me become a better person and a better basketball player.”

The Hornets are the fifth team for which he’s auditioned and he has six or seven more workouts scheduled.

“He’s a really good player,” says Andre Dawkins, who also auditioned Wednesday. “Obviously we were lucky he wasn’t on the Carolina team this year. He would have made the games a little bit different. He’s really good. He’ll make some team really happy.”

Dawkins played for Duke. He’s a Blue Devil.

If he appreciates Hairston’s work, shouldn’t the Hornets?

Sorensen: 704-358-5129; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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