UNC Basketball: P.J. Hairston Decision Allows Team to Grow Without Distractions

Sean ODonnellContributor IIIDecember 22, 2013

USA Today

Now that the saga involving junior guard P.J. Hairston has officially ended, the North Carolina Tar Heels will be able to move forward as a team without ongoing distractions.

The school announced on Friday that it would not seek Hairston's reinstatement from the NCAA and can now put that situation behind them. According to Reid Forgrave of Fox Sports, UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham issued this statement:

Unfortunately P.J. made a number of mistakes that placed his eligibility at risk, and the university’s joint review with the NCAA made it clear that seeking reinstatement for P.J. would not be possible. The university thanks him for his contributions to Carolina basketball.

Of course, it's not entirely settling to know that the team's points leader from a year ago will not be returning; however, if it was going to happen, now is as good a time as any.

Conference play has yet to begin this season, and the remaining members of this basketball team have some time to jell as a unit without Hairston on the court—or on their minds.

This gives players such as sophomore guard Marcus Paige a chance to take the reins of the team.

Paige has been impressive this season, scoring a team-high 213 points. He has emerged as the team's go-to three-point threat, as he has been able to connect on 27 of his 68 attempts this season—good enough for 39.7 percent from that range.

Alongside Paige is junior forward James Michael McAdoo. He has been able to put together some solid performances in the paint this year and has accumulated 154 points on the season. Now that Paige has been able to step up in Hairston's absence, expect to see increased output from McAdoo as well.

Sophomore forward Brice Johnson has begun to show up this season, too. He has been able to connect on 54 of 97 field goals—55.67 percent from the field.

One of UNC's biggest threats also returned recently, as Leslie McDonald was reinstated by the NCAA on Wednesday after missing the first nine games of the season. McDonald could turn out to be the glue that holds all of these players together. He was fantastic last season from three-point range, shooting 35.9 percent.

These players have shown that they are very capable of playing at a high level at times this season. Now that they do not have to deal with ongoing drama, it will be easier to concentrate on doing their jobs and winning basketball games.

Paige, McAdoo, McDonald and Johnson—along with a fantastic 22-point, 11-rebound performance from J.P. Tokoto—were able to defeat Davidson in overtime by a score of 97-85 on Saturday.

At first glance, that really doesn't seem like a huge win. After all, Davidson was just 4-7 entering the game. However, these players were able to come together and dominate during the overtime period to seal their first win since the news of Hairston's dismissal.

Taking that into consideration, this was a crucial win to get the team rolling in the right direction.

UNC now has two more home games against Northern Kentucky and UNC Wilmington before it plays its first conference game of the season at Wake Forest.

By then, this entire situation will be well behind the team, and the Tar Heels will be able to continue to grow as a unit throughout the remainder of the season. They have the talent, and if they can get on a roll, this Tar Heels team could become a nice surprise down the stretch.