Even though North Carolina guard P.J. Hairston remains suspended indefinitely in the wake of his reckless driving charge last month, it appears to be a pretty safe bet the high-scoring junior will suit up for the Tar Heels this season.
North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham confirmed as much Thursday while speaking at a retreat for the university's journalism faculty.
Asked whether Hairston would play for the Tar Heels this coming season, Cunningham responded, "Yes, but not all the games." North Carolina journalism professor Andy Bechtel relayed the comment via Twitter, later explaining his decision to report Cunningham's response by quipping, "It is the journalism faculty's retreat after all."
It's unclear whether Cunningham intended for his comments to become public or not, but there's no question Bechtel is correct they're newsworthy. They represent the strongest indication since Hairston's most recent transgression that he will still play for the Tar Heels next season if he avoids more trouble, albeit after a suspension of an undetermined length.
Hairston put his position on the North Carolina roster in jeopardy with a flurry of poor decisions this offseason.
He was charged with speeding in Durham on May 13 in a Camaro rented to a woman with ties to convicted felon Haydn "Fats" Thomas. He was charged with marijuana possession and driving without a license on June 5 in a GMC Yukon also rented by Thomas, though those charges were dropped earlier this month. Then in late July, police again pulled Hairston over, this time for going 93 miles per hour in a 65-miles-per-hour zone.
The NCAA is likely to investigate the rental cars from Thomas to determine if Harris received extra benefits that would result in a violation. Assuming the NCAA either rules no violation took place or only suspends Hairston part of the season, it will be up to Williams and the North Carolina administration to determine the rest of the punishment.
Williams, for his part, has grown weary of discussing the Hairston saga. Asked by the Associated Press about Hairston this week, Williams said only that he's "tired of reading about it, tired of talking about it" and declined to discuss it further.
It's easy to see why Hairston's status has been such a hot-button issue among fans of the Tar Heels and rival schools. His perimeter scoring would be difficult to replace were he not to play for an extended period next season.
Hairston averaged a team-high 14.6 points per game as a sophomore, sparking North Carolina's late-season surge when he moved into the starting lineup midway through ACC play. He averaged 18.2 points during the Tar Heels' final 13 games, playing so well that he briefly considered entering the NBA draft this spring before announcing in mid-April that he'd return to school for his junior season.