If North Carolina’s P.J. Hairston wants to play college basketball in the 2013-14 season, he is doing a good job of fooling everyone monitoring his situation. To say Hairston’s stock is plummeting into bear-market territory would be an insult to economic crashes everywhere.
Head coach Roy Williams suspended the Tar Heels star indefinitely Sunday night a mere hours after he was cited for speeding and careless and reckless driving. It was reported that he was doing 93 mph in a 65 mph zone.
Based on the offseason Hairston is having thus far, it is a pretty safe bet that he wasn’t rushing back to campus to study for his latest biology exam. A quick summary is in order.
Hairston has driven two rental cars tied to Haydn “Fats” Thomas, a convicted felon and person you probably don’t want your favorite college player’s name linked to on a regular basis. Hairston was also arrested on charges of possessing marijuana and driving without a license, but the charges were eventually dismissed.
Throw in the fact that a 9-millimeter handgun was found as well as the marijuana, and it was an adventurous traffic stop to say the least.
After these incidents, Williams said that Hairston would face “serious consequences,” but that left the North Carolina coach with a lot of wiggle room. After all, anyone who has run suicides on the basketball floor until they puked would tell you that qualifies as a serious consequence.
However, after the latest mishap, an indefinite suspension seems to carry more teeth. Sarcastic opposing fans may assume that means Hairston will only miss offseason workouts or early games against Holy Cross, Belmont and Richmond, but a slap on the wrist like that would make Williams look soft in those same fans’ eyes.
Let’s work under the assumption that Hairston misses significant time, at least during the non-conference portion of the schedule. North Carolina’s 2013-14 stock immediately takes a crippling blow with games against the likes of Michigan State, Kentucky, Texas and likely Louisville on the docket.
This is a Tar Heels team that has high expectations in place, despite that fact that it is generally unproven. A strong finish to what started as a dismal 2012-13 campaign has optimism in place in Chapel Hill, but that was always assuming Hairston would suit up.
Losing most or all of these difficult non-conference games would put North Carolina behind the eight ball and in a similar position to last year. It would need a late surge just to work its way up to a higher potential seed in the NCAA tournament, and even that got the Heels an early exit in the 2013 postseason.
Throw in a general lack of momentum heading into what should be the most challenging ACC schedule in years with the addition of Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh, and Carolina has reason to be concerned in this hypothetical.
It’s not only North Carolina’s on-court stock that has taken a dip, it is its off-court one as well. We are talking about the same athletic department that saw its football team forced to sit out the 2012 postseason and placed on three years’ probation for impermissible benefits.
It is also the same athletic program that was in hot water for classes that appeared to have been tailored toward keeping athletes eligible.
These type of things not only give rivals ammunition to further sneer at your fans (just ask Alabama supporters about Cam Newton’s eligibility, Michigan fans about Terrelle Pryor’s tattoos or even older Ohio State fans about Chris Webber’s eagerness to accept gifts in college), but could impact recruiting as well.
It would be naïve to think opposing coaches won’t mention North Carolina’s (and Hairston’s in particular) off-court and off-field issues to the parents of potential student athletes. It may not be the ultimate deciding factor, but it could come into play if a player is having trouble deciding between UNC and another school.
And finally, what about Hairston himself? If and when he returns to the court, his stock will need some serious improvement, especially if he hopes to play in the NBA one day.
NBA scouts are a group of people that once took Yi Jianlian’s ability to post up a chair into consideration when assessing his draft stock, so you can bet character red flags surrounding Hairston will be discussed on draft day.
As the amount of uncertainty with North Carolina and Hairston continues to ramp up, one thing is for sure—actual basketball games can’t come soon enough for the Tar Heels.
Follows and interact with college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.