P.J. Hairston greeted with warm welcome at Late Night
While his teammates danced their way onto the stage during introductions, junior guard P.J. Hairston made his Late Night with Roy entrance Friday night a bit more understated, only putting his hand over his heart and high-fiving fans with outstretched hands.
The move impressed coach Roy Williams, who lauded his beleaguered guard for entering without any “gyrations.”
The entrance, understated though it was, brought the crowd in the Smith Center to its feet, welcoming last year’s leading scorer back to his domain.
“I think it was something that he probably appreciated,” Williams said of the crowd’s applause. “I did, too. He’s had a tough, tough time — the majority of it caused by himself. But he still has had a tough, tough time. And I liked the way he just came out and waved at everybody and touched his heart.”
In his first 65 seconds on the court in the Blue and White scrimmage, which ended in a 50-50 tie on a buzzer-beating shot by Marcus Paige, Hairston erupted, knocking down two 3-pointers and adding another minutes later. Hairston finished the 20-minute scrimmage with 20 points coming from four 3-point and four 2-point buckets, according to unofficial statistics.
For Hairston and his teammates, the court was an escape from the drama that’s surrounded the junior since his infamous Durham traffic stop in June. Though his usual 3-point assault is more than most teams can contain, Hairston added more weapons to his offensive arsenal, aggressively attacking the boards for rebounds and close-range put-backs.
“It’s great for him,” said Paige, who showed off impressive dance moves earlier in the night. “It’s a release for him to put everything in the past from the summer.”
While Hairston led the Blue team’s attack, freshman center Kennedy Meeks led the charge for the White team and earned a double-double in his unofficial Smith Center debut.
According to unofficial statistics, Meeks scored 16 points and gobbled up 16 rebounds, leading his team in both points and rebounds. His competition for the starting center spot, sophomore Joel James, produced half of Meeks’ stat line — scoring eight points and grabbing eight rebounds.
“He did a nice job on the backboards,” Williams said of Meeks. “He’s got great hands. He came in at 317 … and weighed 284 before practice yesterday. He’s done a really good job, just got to maintain, he doesn’t have very good stamina. (He has) great hands and touch around the basket.”
There’s still a stiff competiton between the big men for the coveted spot on the court, and Paige said that he’s still not sure whom Williams will ultimately select.
Also in the mix for a spot down low is 6-foot-8 freshman Isaiah Hicks who scored 10 points and added three rebounds for the Blue team.
And though questions remain about the final lineup and Hairston’s early season eligibility, at least for one night, he was able to don a North Carolina jersey and remind the crowds of the player that powered the Tar Heels to a second-half surge last season.