Just flip it over to the corner, watch the shooting guard escalate, and at the point of his shot, releases the basketball. As the ball floats in the air, the rotation cutting the rowdy atmosphere of the Dean Smith Center, the audience watching from home can feel the weight of the ball as it falls through the mesh netting and smacks the paint below.
Another P.J. Hairston three-pointer, it’s the fifth of the night during the first round of the NCAA tournament against the underrated Villanova Wildcats. Hairston recorded a 64% field goal percentage, with an outstanding 63% behind the arc. A stat line that included 23 points, 5 boards, 3 assists, one block, and a steal. That’s what Hairston can bring to an already talented North Carolina roster. Yet how much will the Tar Heels’ miss their electric guard as an indefinite suspension floats over his head?
This year, the Tar Heels bring back a core that faced a lot of trouble last year, especially in the early goings, but blossomed at the end of the season. Marcus Paige, in his first year as the floor general, had to forego the guidance of Kendall Marshall and run the team with a lack of experience. The fact that Paige took on that workload, and at the end of the season showed some outstanding results, that included increases to his decision making and shot selection, proves that he will be a huge part of keeping the Tar Heels offense fast and furious. Especially during the first part of their schedule, this includes games against Michigan State, Kentucky, and a possible matchup against the defending champions, the Louisville Cardinals, in the Hall of Fame Tipoff to jump start the season.
With Paige at the point, production from McDonald at the guard position will be significant. His on-ball defense helps at keeping other scorers at bay, yet his scoring production could be of some great help, if he used the off-season to broaden his repertoire of course. McDonald hasn’t shown much aggression going towards the rim as he spent most of his time behind the arc, sporting a career average of 37%. Since Reggie Bullock jumped to the NBA, McDonald will really need to start being more potent as a scorer if the Tar Heels wish to be more than just pure athleticism.
Onto James Michael McAdoo, who last season fell far short of his pre-season expectations. In his defense, McAdoo was played out of position early on, being out-muscled by bigger forwards and centers in the paint. Once Williams implemented the small-ball offense, it really sparked for McAdoo, although he still suffered from untimely turnovers and poor matchups, the athleticism that NBA scouts drooled over was brightly shone. McAdoo’s growing pains from last year will pay very well for the Tar Heels’ offense.
From there I see a lot of potential from players like sophomore Brice Johnson, Jackson Simmons, the lightning bolt off the bench, Joel James, and J.P. Tokoto. Those four players will most likely fill in key roles for the Tar Heels while McAdoo, McDonald, and Paige run the show. Brice Johnson looks like he will have a breakout season as the starting center, with the rotund and physical James creating problems for other bigs as he comes off the bench. Simmons is a catalyst, put him in the game and the Tar Heels have another gear, his energy is very important for the momentum of their games if facing a deficit. Tokoto showed some talent last year, but it’ll be relieving to see his shot’s improvement as well as his length advantage on defense.
So now, I look at Hairston and I think that he needs to tighten up that tie and put his big boy pants on, it’s all fun and games until you get caught, and another notch will only set his maturity back and put a damper on his talent. This roster he has around him looks to be very deadly but they could be even more dangerous with a prolific scorer and slasher in the lineup. It would also help Hairston to be a much better player, enough to where he could be in contention for Naismith Player of the Year. However, by the looks of what the Tar Heels have going in, to a degree Hairston’s presence will be missed, especially when they take on the Spartans and those Wildcats out of Kentucky early, unless the suspension gets lifted. The more time that he’s not on the floor, the more this team will gel. So when he straps on those Carolina blue Jordan sneakers, and the cast around him is producing at a high level, we’ll momentarily forget Hairston’s poor judgment and watch as they trample opponents in transition and see Hairston rise up to put that ball in its home.