P.J. Hairston

P.J. Hairston cleared to practice at North Carolina, but when will he play?

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It goes without saying that North Carolina junior guard P.J. Hairston experienced an eventful offseason. Traffic stops, a reported connection to a nefarious character who goes by the nickname of “Fats” and questions regarding vehicles driven by Hairston ultimately led to head coach Roy Williams making the decision in late July to suspend the Tar Heels’ leading scorer indefinitely.

The question asked by many: when would Hairston be cleared to resume activities with the team? On Thursday the school announced its decision in regards to practice, with Hairston now cleared to practice with his teammates on Friday. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given the fact that Hairston was already participating in workouts with his teammates; Thursday’s announcement just makes things official.

“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 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.”

How many games will Hairston have to miss? That remains to be seen, and how he fares from this point forward will obviously have an impact on Coach Williams’ decision.

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,” said Hairston. “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.”

Of course the cynics out there will retort that the length of the suspension will be influenced by North Carolina’s schedule. Following an exhibition against UNC Pembroke on November 1 the Tar Heels will play three straight games at home, hosting Oakland, Holy Cross and Belmont. Both Oakland (led by one of the nation’s best shooters in Travis Bader) and Belmont (which has made three consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament) have the ability to be a pesky opponent for North Carolina, but those will be games the Tar Heels are expected to win.

From there they’ll play two games at the Mohegan Sun Arena (Uncasville, Conn.), taking on Richmond (November 23) and either Fairfield or Louisville (November 24). With the defending national champion Cardinals looming, could that be when Hairston makes his return? UNC also has non-conference games against Michigan State (December 4) and Kentucky (December 14) before they begin ACC play against Wake Forest on January 5.

With guard Marcus Paige and forward James Michael McAdoo back and a highly regarded recruiting class on campus, North Carolina will once again be a factor in the ACC. But how much of a factor they are depends upon how productive Hairston is offensively with Reggie Bullock now in the NBA. If Hairston has truly learned from his offseason problems, both he and North Carolina stand to reap the rewards.

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.