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Player Profile: P.J. Hairston

In the ramp up to the 2012-13 basketball season, Tar Heel Blog will be profiling key Tar Heels who will likely be major contributors this season. Today’s profile looks at small forward P.J. Hairston

Grant Halverson


Number: 15
Position: Small Forward
Height: 6-5 1/2
Weight: 220 lbs
Year: Sophomore
2011-12 and Career Stats: 37 gms, 5.7 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 27% 3P%

Of all the quotes in Inside Carolina's excellent interview with Roy Willams, his bit about P.J. Hairston struck me the most:

P.J. told me this summer that Hubert Davis was working with him on shooting more up and down because of his tendency to kick his leg out. Was that part of his struggle during the second half of last season?

I've been harping on him ever since he got here about it. You have to be on balance. And I told Hubert when he got here... The reason for getting Hubert to work with the guys is to let them get a chance to know Hubert more and to let Hubert get to know them more. And the guy who is doing it-if I'm getting this right-is the third-best career 3-point percentage shooter in NBA history. Roy Williams never made a shot. And P.J. Hairston, the first day, I asked, ‘Why is your right leg flying out like that? You have to have balance.' And I said that for 98 practices or however many we had. Now it's coming from a fresh voice, it's coming from one of the best shooters in NBA history, so all of those help, but it's also P.J. maturing a little bit and listening. That's something that everybody has to do.

This in a nutshell sums up P.J. Hairston - maturing and rebuilding his shot. And that's why you shouldn't be too worried if he's not an offensive powerhouse early on this season. Retraining your shooting motion is a difficult process, and relapse is always tempting at first. That familiar motion that has always worked is a siren's call, especially should you enter a slump.

It needs to be done however, as any fan who witnessed Hairston's late-season shooting woes will attest. The wing went only 8 of 50 from three in ACC play; this season, without the stacked frontcourt, a more consistent shot will be needed. And to be frank, a lot will be expected of Hairston. To translate a couple of Adrain Atkinson tweets:

30 ACC players have shot less than 30% from behind the arc while taking more than 50 attempts in each of their first two season; that group improved from 27.2% three-point shooting to 34.0%. Reggie Bullock went from 29.6% to 38.2%, while Leslie McDonald improved from 20.8% to 38.1%.

But I'm skeptical. I think Hairston's shot, in transition as it is, should not be relied on too heavily by the fans. What I really want to see from the sophomore is an improved defense. Bullock was one of UNC's best defenders in the back half of the season, and Hairston's playing time is going to depend in part on how good a defender he can be in relief. He showed promise in spurts on that side of the ball last year, but had a freshman's learning curve adjusting to college play. If he can improve to Bullock and Strickland's level, UNC's perimeter D could be very impressive. Defense is going to be critical to this team's success, and Hairston could play a key role.

And if he starts draining threes like it's going out of style, well, that will be helpful too.