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.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.

Arizona and Texas headline Lone Star Shootout

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Another marquee, early season event is on the books for the college basketball season as four potential tournament teams will be squaring off at the Toyota Center in Houston on Dec. 17th.

The highlight of the double-header, which has been dubbed the Lone Star Shootout, will probably end up being Arizona vs. Texas A&M. The Wildcats are a Pac-12 contender and a borderline top 10 team as we enter the season, and while the Aggies will have work to do replacing the seniors they lost off of last season’s roster, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

The other matchup will feature a pair of former Southwest Conference rivals facing off in Texas and Arkansas. Texas will be talented but young while Arkansas may actually have the best player on the floor in Moses Kingsley. What will make this matchup interesting is that both Mike Anderson and Shaka Smart are known for being coaches that prefer a full court pressing system.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to play in front of our fans at the Toyota Center in Houston,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said in a statement. “It is one of the most important areas in this state as it relates to our recruiting and fan base.

Five-star 2017 guard Lonnie Walker cuts list to five schools

Men's U18 trials head shots and team photo on 6.15.16
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Five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker is coming off of a very good summer as he trimmed his list to five schools on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-4 native of Reading, Pennsylvania is still considering Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Syracuse and Villanova, he announced on Twitter.

Regarded as the No. 26 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, Walker played with Team Final in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer as he averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Walker shot 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

An efficient scorer who is learning to drive with both hands, Walker is very talented and the type of guard who might also be able to handle a bit as well.