PJ Hairston

Marcus Paige: ‘We’ve moved on. [PJ Hairston]’s working out with us’

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What kind of punishment PJ Hairston receives for an offseason’s worth of troubling headlines, run-ins with the law and one reported association with a convicted felon with a penchant for renting nice cars, but what’s clear at this point is that North Carolina will have their leading returning scorer back on the team in 2013-2014.

That became all the more obvious on Monday evening, when ESPN.com reported that Hairston has been practicing with his Tar Heel teammates despite being indefinitely suspended from the program.

“[The distraction] was more of an issue in the summer than it will be going into the season,” sophomore point guard Marcus Paige told ESPN.com. “He’s in good shape right now, and I think he’s in a good place and is ready to move on. … We’ve moved on. He’s working out with us, and we still accept him. It was a big deal in the media, but we’re pretty confident everyone has moved past it. We can’t wait to get him back — whenever it is.”

With football season starting and Hairston keeping his nose clean the last two months, Paige is right, he’s become much less of a story than he was over the summer.

But during the summer, Hairston couldn’t have been a bigger thorn in Roy Williams’ side.

Hairston was arrested for driving without a license and possession of marijuana, and while both of those charges were dropped, the NCAA began poking around because he was driving a car that was rented by a convicted felon named Fats Thomas at the time. Hairston had also been pulled over for driving a car rented by a woman that lived with Thomas earlier in the year. He was suspended from the team in July when he was pulled over and cited for reckless driving.

Last month, North Carolina AD Bubba Cunningham told a group of professors that Hairston would play this season but “not all the games“.

PJ Hairston: ‘I’ll be on the court’ this season

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The assumption within the North Carolina program seems to be that embattled guard PJ Hairston will miss some time this season, but that it’s a virtual certainty that he will play this season.

UNC AD Bubba Cunningham said as much to a group of journalism professors earlier this month.

And now, for the first time since getting pulled over in a GMC Yukon that was rented by a convicted felon named Fats Thomas with weed and a gun in the car, Hairston has commented publicly.

“Yeah, I’ll be on the court,” Hairston told the Daily Tar Heel last night while shooting around on one of the outdoor courts on the Chapel Hill campus. “I’m not sure how long I’ll have to sit out. I haven’t found out yet, but whatever it is I’m ready for it.”

Hairston’s summer has been a nightmare for head coach Roy Williams. In addition to getting pulled over on June 5th — all charges were eventually dropped — news broke that Hairston had been caught speeding in a 2012 Camaro that was rented for him by a woman that lives Thomas. Then, in July, Hairston was pulled over for driving 93 in a 65, which resulted in a reckless driving charge and an indefinite suspension from the team.

P.J. Hairston, North Carolina get key win over Virginia to hold ground in ACC race

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Saturday, it was all a matter of pace.

Despite allowing Virginia to shoot nearly 59 percent from the floor, including 12-of-21 from three-point range, P.J. Hairston and North Carolina’s up-tempo offense were too much for the Cavaliers in a 93-81 victory at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Hairston scored 29 points, which included 6-of-12 shooting from three-point range, as North Carolina’s most lethal offensive weapon.

Where the Tar Heels had trouble defending Virginia guard Joe Harris and his 27 points, North Carolina dominated on the glass to finish +11 in rebounding margin and +7 on turnovers

Converting those turnovers into points was the key Saturday, along with staying out of foul trouble and keeping Virginia off of the free throw line.

The win moves North Carolina to 7-5 in the conference and keeps the Tar Heels from falling into a crowded pack of teams around the .500 mark in the ACC.

That puts more pressure on NC State, who has a very winnable game against Virginia Tech Saturday. Coach Mark Gottfried’s team is favored by 15 points and a win would pull them even with UNC in the ACC race.

It also helps North Carolina in the NCAA tournament bubble conversation. The Tar Heels could not afford to lose a game like this at home and now can chalk up Virginia as one of its best wins of the season. The only other that would likely compete is UNLV in non-conference play, though the Rebels are working through a difficult Mountain West schedule right now.

Looking forward on the schedule, North Carolina would be helped mightily if it avoid a letdown against Georgia Tech, Florida State, Clemson, andMaryland, as well as get at least one win over NC State or No. 2 Duke. A win at home over Duke would give the Tar Heels a signature win that could round out an NCAA tournament resume.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_