Tag Archives: PJ Hairston

The Sad Tar Heel Fan’s Guide to P.J. Basketball-Gate

Last year, P.J. Hairston established himself as a supernova bright spot on a UNC Basketball team that spent the first half of the season oscillating between disappointing and infuriating. Over the course of the season, as Roy Williams transitioned into a style of basketball that played to his team’s strengths, The Black Wolverine went from reliable bench player to easily the most beloved of the starting five. He wrung drop after drop of goodwill and enthusiasm out of the fickle Sham-Wows that are Carolina fans’ souls, and drew, in particular, some borderline-psychotic affection from this guy right here.

Over the past four weeks, however, we may have learned that Neil deGrasse Tyson was right all along: supernovas happen when a star dies in a terrible explosion of monumental cosmic destructiveness.

To be fair, in a vacuum, PJ’s pitfalls are relatively tame, especially compared to the other athletic scandals that we are currently entrenched in. Johnny Football wins a crazy-off with P.J. B-Ball in a landslide. Good ol’ J. Heisman has put hands on a coach and picked actual fights with heated rivals on their turf, whereas P.J.B.B. got caught speeding on a stretch of highway that every single North Carolinian has broken 80mph on. (Seriously, that portion of 85 near Salisbury might be the most boring stretch of highway outside of the Dakotas). I also remain unconvinced that the pot wasn’t in that car because whenever The Black Wolverine drives through Durham, teenagers shout “PJ’s coming!” and toss their drugs out of their windows at him.

Unfortunately for Mr. Hairston, he doesn’t have the luxury of committing crimes in Texas, where things like rule-following and sobriety are considered signs of liberal femininity (legally, Texas’ state bird is “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and bars have a fight quota they have to meet or risk being shut down by the cops), nor does he have the luxury of misbehaving in a vacuum (which doesn’t exist in nature). Instead, he has to contend with the microscope that’s already focused on Chapel Hill, thanks in large part to a coach whose name rhymes with Mutch Mavis and an AFAM department that might have just been a random number generator programmed by the same scientists who engineered Julius Peppers.

Needless to say, the possible loss of UNC’s best 3-point shooter would be pretty terrible by itself, but add to that the fact that he’s the emotional center of the team and a tenacious defender, and you come up with something that, for a number of reasons, should leave fans of UNC basketball heartbroken.

I made the case here that because of of his impressive stats but often infuriating actual play, James Michael McAdoo was college basketball’s first fully tangible athlete. If you never actually saw him play, but only read the numbers in the paper the next day, you’d think he was the best player on the team. PJ isn’t the opposite of that, exactly, because he also had a pretty impressive statistical season, but the things he brought to the game beyond his ability to shoot the 3 made a huge difference for the team last year. As has been noted, he defended tenaciously, threw his body around with reckless abandon, and fired up everyone around him. There was a palpable shift in the team’s attitude from when PJ wasn’t on the court to when he was. In short, he was tangible and intangible at the exact same time, like some kind of basketball Schrodinger’s cat or that cute X-Girl played by Ellen Page. And to lose Ellen Page from the team would be a cause for great distress, to say the least.

P.J. seemed to find his shot after a summer under the tutelage of Hubert Davis, who came on in May 2012 as a shooting coach and assistant. If Leslie MacDonald (at just south of PJ’s 3 point percentage on a little over half as many attempts, also batting 1.000 on phones purchased from the gentleman who rented the car P.J. was driving in Durham) can keep developing similarly (and stay. Out. Of. Trouble.), he can be a viable threat beyond the arc, sure, but can he play the same kind of defense as Hairston, or occupy a role of emotional leadership?

The potential is there for next year to be very successful one for Carolina. A more mature Marcus Paige means steadier play and fewer turnovers, and Kennedy Meeks (and the possibly viable outside shooting of Leslie MacDonald) will take pressure off of McAdoo and allow him more space to work in (I’m pretty hard on James Michael here, but even I’ll admit that a big part of his problem last year was that defenses could key on him). The ceiling on this team, with PJ, is somewhere in the same ballpark as really really good bordering on great, but even without him it’s a collection of remarkable talent and potential.

We’ll have to wait and find out what the verdict is for P.J. (from Roy Williams, his actual judge, not the pitiable state Judge whose authority is merely legal, and who’s dropped the drug-related charge against Hairston) but what’s going to make this set of circumstances particularly sticky for UNC fan’s craws is how tame his actions are compared to certain other area delinquents.

It also can’t go unsaid: if P.J. somehow remains on the team, the signs in the student section of Cameron Indoor will be the stuff of nightmares.

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You Merely Adopted the Dark, P.J. Hairston Was Born In It

The best part of any movie ever is that scene in the cemetery at the end of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Every aspect of film cooperates to deliver an inarguable three-minute snippet of pure genius: Tuco knows the location of the graveyard, but not the name on the headstone under which is buried a fortune in Confederate gold. Clint Eastwood knows the name, but up until this point did not know where the graveyard was. Every event in the film has been leading inexorably up to this point, and the greatest film score in history is playing behind it.

Similarly, the best part of college basketball is that scene at the end of the ACC regular season when Duke and UNC play, after the Wolfpack has faded back into regional obscurity (watch that clip again: symbolically, perhaps, a dog scurries away at 0:43). Every moment of the season has led us here, and various sundry other clichés. The stories, which have woven together like fine tapestries all year, finally take their place on the wall above the hearth of the 2012-13 season, etc. etc. bar-none the Finest Rivalry in Sports etc. etc.

Which all can and will be discussed by folks with better working knowledge of basketball and a more complete understanding of Tobacco Road history, so I’m going to focus on taking a bright spot on this years Carolina team and making it just a little bit brighter. We’re finally going to give P.J. Hairston what he deserves: a monochromatic animal nickname!

In 2010, Harrison Barnes rolled into Chapel Hill  surrounded by a Tasmanian Devil tornado of hype, bearing the “Black Falcon” moniker. The story goes that he wanted a nom de guerre along the lines of Jordan’s “Black Cat” and Kobe’s “Black Mamba,” and someone who works for ESPN obliged him (the part about him wanting said nickname might make it invalid, though, based on my understanding of the rules of nicknaming).

In January of 2011, the creator and proprietor of this very website, the benevolent Odin to Tobacco Road Blues’ Asgard, dubbed Ryan Kelly “The White Raven,” which put him (intentionally or not) in binary opposition to Barnes, because Kelly had gone to Ravenscroft, a Raleigh school with a similarly passerine mascot.

Which brings us to now. With our Black Falcon gone, Duke’s White Raven stands as the only animal-man in the triangle, exploring the duality of light and dark, good and evil.

P.J. Hairston’s rise to popularity and overall excellence was predicted on this very website, and it is now time to bestow upon him such a nickname, to let him know he has arrived.

Firstly, is P.J. a bird? The answer is no. Does he soar? Sure, but he plays gritty, he plays low to the ground, he spends as much time sliding on the hardwood as he does gliding to the basket. P.J. plays yeoman’s basketball. He plays hurt and gets concussions, and absolutely he sinks those long three-balls, but he’ll rebound with players twice his height as well.

Secondly, does a White Raven even exist in nature? The answer is yes. The white-necked raven is indigenous to the mountainous regions of Southern Africa. It is a scavenging bird of prey, a scoundrel of the air. Most reasonable people dislike the white-necked raven.

Thirdly, does this real-life white raven have any natural predators, perhaps a non-avian one that could serve as a nice basis for Hairston’s very own nickname? Why yes, and thank you kindly for asking such a specific and leading question. The white-necked raven faces great danger from an animal called a Marten, which invades its nest and feasts upon the raven’s eggs. The Marten is a small but ferocious mammal, a close cousin to the badger as well as to the most accurate animal descriptor for Mr. Hairston: the wolverine.

So is he a wolverine of the light or a wolverine of the shadows? Is he Chapel Hill’s White Knight or is he Dean Dome Batman? I’ll answer that question with another question: when the White Raven is flying around, riding the thermals upward into the sky, what does he fear? Ryan Kelly will score lots of points on Saturday, I don’t think anyone has doubts about that. He’ll score lots of points and play phenomenal basketball and Duke will be the complete, excellent, terrifying unit that they were at the beginning of the season. But P.J. Hairston will do work, he’ll hit threes but he’ll also dive over scorers tables and scrap around under the paint and steal the ball from Seth Curry and get fouled about 17 times by Mason Plumlee, and he’ll exhibit great quantities of what they call grit. It might not be enough to win the Tar Heels the game, but at some point P.J. Hairston is going to sneak into the White Raven’s nest and eat some eggs.

P.J. Hairston is in the starting lineup now because he excelled in the shadows, and by becoming an idea he forced a mythologically obstinate man to change the way he coaches basketball.

He is the hero that UNC deserves and needs. A silent guardian. A watchful protector.

The Black Wolverine.

(Goosebumps, right? I got goosebumps)

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