UNC's Williams unclear on when P.J. Hairston will play
Two months after suspending P.J. Hairston indefinitely, North Carolina coach Roy Williams said Thursday he still isn’t sure when his leading scorer will play this season.
When the time finally comes, Hairston will be prepared.
After making him do “more than three times more (running) than any player I’ve ever had,” Williams said that the junior guard will participate when the team begins practice today.
Hairston was twice ticketed for speeding since May — once for going 93 mph in a 65 mph zone — and was also arrested for misdemeanor possession of marijuana. In two of the run-ins with police, he was driving a rental car linked to Durham felon Haydn “Fats” Thomas.
Besides the extra conditioning — Hairston did an extra 18 days of running beyond the tam’s normal program — Williams decided that the Greensboro native won’t be a team captain and won’t be on the cover of the media guide.
But the coach said he still hasn’t decided on the biggest question — when Hairston will play.
“I can’t give you the answer to that,” Williams said. “I didn’t know how much he was going to run (until) it came to me in the middle of the night.”
UNC will likely face consensus top 5 teams Louisville (Nov. 24), Michigan State (Dec. 4) and Kentucky (Dec. 14) among its first nine games.
Williams wouldn’t reveal how he’ll decide the length of Hairston’s suspension, but said it would be announced before the season starts Nov. 8 against Oakland.
The coach may be waiting to hear from the NCAA before determining a final punishment. A team source has confirmed that the NCAA is looking into Hairston’s relationship with Thomas, and the use of the rental cars could be considered an NCAA violation.
“I can’t speak to what the NCAA is doing or not doing,” Williams said. “But I know that Roy Williams has a tremendous voice in what else is going to be done.”
Hairston wasn’t available at Thursday’s preseason media day. Instead, the team released a statement in which Hairston apologized for his mistakes and for bringing negative attention to the team, the school and his family.
Hairston’s availability was the most pressing issue at Thursday’s media day, but it was far from the only unresolved question.
After utilizing a four-guard lineup at the end of last season, Williams said he would like to go back to a conventional lineup, if possible.
“I hope to stay big,” Williams said. “But what I have to do is pick up the best five guys and put them on the court.”
Juniors Desmond Hubert and Jackson Simmons, sophomores Joel James and Brice Johnson and freshmen Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks are all possibilities at center. But starting point guard Marcus Paige and sophomore wing J.P. Tokoto both think James will eventually claim the spot.
“It’s definitely not a set-in-stone thing,” Paige said. “But based on what I’ve seen and how much he’s improved, I think he has the best chance at this point.”
“I truly believe that Joel’s going to take the ‘5’ spot,” Tokoto said.
Alternatively, Williams could go with two point guards, sophomore Marcus Paige and freshman Nate Britt, and play much smaller.
“We could see three guys 6-8 or bigger or two guys I see eyeball-to-eyeball with,” Williams said.
Because of a new NCAA rule which allows teams to begin practice 42 days prior to the first regular-season date, Williams expects the team to hold 29 practices between now and the opener against Oakland. Last season, Williams said the team held 21 or 22 practices, starting on Oct. 18.