P.J. Hairston may be a good kid who made some bad mistakes, as Roy Williams put it, but he’s not the only one paying the price for his actions.
Because Hairston won’t play again for North Carolina, there’s an entire team bearing that burden and a university with yet another conspicuous black eye thanks to an athlete’s misdeeds.
The announcement that North Carolina would not apply for reinstatement with the NCAA on Hairston’s behalf – the part of the ritualized, arcane dance of compliance where the NCAA makes it clear not to bother based on the information at hand – concludes the saga that hung over this season from long before it started.
Leslie McDonald is back, having missed nine games for various and sundry violations of NCAA rules. Miykael Faulcon, the Elizabeth City State player who was found to be using the same rental cars in violation of NCAA rules, is back as well. Hairston, North Carolina’s leading scorer a year ago, is gone for good.
“The actions were there,” Williams, the North Carolina coach, acknowledged Friday. “All of us in life pay for our actions and these are some very difficult consequences that he’s paid for his actions.”
It’s a long list of actions. Speeding tickets. Rental cars. A late-night arrest. Hairston made it clear this summer that he is as bad at making decisions as he is good at playing basketball. He has spent more time in court than on the court. That won’t hurt his NBA stock. There aren’t many shooters of his caliber and his size even in the NBA, and he’ll be a hot commodity, even without playing this season.
That only makes the damage inflicted on his teammates all the more severe. He put lives at risk, others’ and his own, with his reckless driving this summer, and in the process put at risk the hopes and dreams of teammates who did nothing wrong and thought they would be playing alongside Hairston this season.
Not to mention, thanks to Hairston and football players Greg Little and Marvin Austin just to start, North Carolina is getting quite a reputation for running afoul of the NCAA, and that’s before we even get to the shenanigans of faculty members Julius Nyang’Oro and Deborah Crowder.
Even if they are all isolated incidents, they do blur together in the public eye, and North Carolina’s image, once polished to a fine shine by Dean Smith and others, has been repeatedly and continually tarnished over a 31/2-year span.
Fairly or unfairly, it all adds up. It surely does.
As it turns out, when it comes to basketball, this North Carolina team as now permanently constituted isn’t a bad one. The Tar Heels have proven themselves capable of beating anyone, anywhere, when they’re at their best. Louisville. Michigan State. Kentucky. Not bad.
They’re also mind-blowingly inconsistent at their worst, although the recent and belated addition of McDonald’s 3-point shooting may smooth out some of those wrinkles – as will the final resolution of the Hairston saga. No one knows the mental toll it took, particularly as he continued to practice with the team in hopes of a return.
It’s a good team, if an erratic one, without Hairston. There’s no doubt it would be a better one with him.
Hairston’s play when he entered the starting lineup last season may have saved the Tar Heels then. His persistent inability to make the right decision has put them in a difficult position now.