North Carolina Basketball

P.J. Hairston receives warm reception at UNC's 'Late Night With Roy'

acarter@newsobserver.comOctober 25, 2013 

— Marcus Paige, North Carolina point guard, provided a worthy impression of Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. Some of his teammates came out and offered their own moves. But when the public address announcer introduced P.J. Hairston on Friday night, he simply walked out and slapped hands with the student section.

Hairston, the Tar Heels’ junior guard, received the loudest ovation during the player introduction portion of North Carolina’s annual “Late Night with Roy” – the team’s celebratory preseason event that features skits, songs, dances and even, at times, some basketball.

Friday night represented Hairston’s first public appearance in a UNC uniform – even if it was only a practice jersey – since his tumultuous summer of trouble left him with an indefinite suspension. If there was any doubt how he’d be received, that evaporated as his name started to be announced.

There were plenty of cheers for Hairston during the intros, and a lot more during the scrimmage. Hairston scored the first points on a long 3-pointer from the left wing, and finished with 20 points to lead all scorers.

“I think it was something that he probably appreciated,” coach Roy Williams said of Hairston’s reception. “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.

“It wasn’t any gyrations or any dancing, pounding his chest kind of thing.”

No, the dancing came later. Williams and his assistants participated a bit, too, before the festivities gave way to a 20-minute Blue vs. White scrimmage. The teams ended in a 50-50 tie after sophomore point guard Marcus Paige made a running shot for the White just before the final buzzer sounded.

Paige said he drew up the play himself, and nobody from the Blue team stepped in his way. That irked Williams, he said afterward. One of the things that pleased him most, though, was the performance of Kennedy Meeks, the burly freshman forward from Charlotte.

Meeks arrived at North Carolina in the summer weighing 316 pounds, Williams said. Now, after a couple of months of conditioning, Meeks is a more svelte 284 pounds. Meeks led the White team with 16 points and 12 rebounds, and he created a good number of second-chance opportunities.

“He’s great in the halfcourt,” Paige said. “Once we get him running, he’s going to be even more effective. You see what he can do – carve out space and keep the ball and get offensive rebounds. So that should help us out a lot. He’s a big presence and he has good hands.”

In addition to Meeks, senior guard Leslie McDonald (12 points) and sophomore forward Brice Johnson (10 points) scored in double figures for the White team. Sophomore forwards Joel James and J.P. Tokoto scored 10 points apiece for the Blue team.

Williams said Tokoto will sit out North Carolina first exhibition game on Nov. 1 against UNC-Pembroke as a result of paperwork problem with an NCAA-sanctioned summer league in which he played in Milwaukee. Tokoto will be eligible for the start of the season on Nov. 8.

Hairston made the first two shots for the Blue on a pair of long 3s. He made four 3-pointers in all. Afterward, Williams said he still wasn’t sure how many games Hairston will miss to start the season. Last week, Williams at the ACC’s annual media day in Charlotte acknowledged the NCAA will have a say in how many games Hairston will miss.

Part of Hairston’s off-the-court issues over the summer stemmed from his use of rental cars paid for by somebody else. For the first time, Williams also said North Carolina has been in discussion with the NCAA about McDonald’s status.

McDonald used a designer mouth guard last season and also appeared in an online advertisement for Iceberg Guards, which made mouth guards McDonald wore in at least one game. The use of the mouth guard and appearing in promotional material could result in action from the NCAA, though North Carolina sent a cease-and-desist letter to Iceberg demanding the company stop using McDonald to promote its product.

“The NCAA doesn’t call me and ask me what I think,” Williams said. “… All the rumors and everything that’s been going around since June – we’ve been addressing those. And it’s the kind of thing where there’s still things in process with P.J., and then Leslie both. But (the NCAA) is part of it, yes.”

Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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