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July 11, 2012DURHAM--- UNC rising sophomore P.J. Hairston had a big night Tuesday at the Greater N.C. Pro Am on the campus of N.C. Central, scoring 30 points, including 18 in the second half, in leading his Sheridan Imperial team to a hard-fought win against a team comprised of Division I players including former Wake Forest guard Gary Clark and a handful of players from UNC-Greensboro.
"It feels good to be out here playing against top players. Gary Clark played at Wake Forest,. There's overseas players. It's just great competition out here, and it's a great atmosphere. Some are for you and some are against you, but that's how it is," said Hairston in a postgame interview.
Hairston is showing with each passing week that the nagging shoulder injury that was bugging him earlier this summer is improving.
"I wouldn't say it (the shoulder) is 100 percent, but it's not bothering me at all. I still ice it when I'm at the gym or I when I go get in the hot tub and put it under water. But other than that, it's fine. It's not really bothering me," he said after connecting on five three-pointers and making 10 field goals to score nearly half his team's total points.
Hairston scored the game's first five and had a solid overall first half with 12 points, but it was in the third quarter that he really got into the ballgame thanks to some heckles by a handful of loud Duke fans who were there to watch some Blue Devil players playing in later games.
After one sequence in which Hairston shot an airball the jeers got pretty loud and pretty personal, but he followed it up on the immediate position with a steal on the defensive end and coast-to-coast slam dunk.
He then ran back down to the defensive end of the floor and took a charge.
"I heard some Duke fans in my ear, so that got me kind of pumped me up. Every time I made a shot I looked at them and they were quiet, and every time I missed a shot they were cheering. So it was fun, and at the same time competitive after that," he said.
"(The Duke fans were saying) I couldn't shoot. I hit about three jumpers after that. So it was kind of funny. I laughed at them after that every time I hit a jumper."
"It (taking the charge on defense) was kind of in the heat of the game. I didn't know what else to do, so I just stood there, and he ran right into me," Hairston added.
It got pretty heated a couple trips down the floor when Hairston jawed back and forth with a couple specific people in the bleachers, but he kept his composure well enough to make several big shots down the stretch, including a dagger three-pointer in the final two minutes that gave his team a 59-54 lead.
"I'm a ball player. It's what you have to do sometimes if you want to win, and I want to win more than anybody else out there because I hate losing. That's the No. 1 thing---I hate losing. So I had to do what I had to do to get the win."
It wasn't like winning a game in Cameron Indoor Stadium---let's not get ahead of ourselves here---but it was nice obviously for Hairston to shut up some doubters and haters.
Fortunately for Hairston he did find himself on the receiving end of plenty of support from some of the Tar Heel fans who made their way to N.C. Central for the game.
"Not really (it didn't remind me of Cameron). The Cameron Crazies are kind of controlled, but people out here can say what they want, so it's a little more out of control," Hairston said. "It's fine. It's nothing I can't handle."
This summer is providing a unique opportunity for Hairston to play alongside one of the great Tar Heels of the last 20 years---longtime NBA standout and world champion Rasheed Wallace, who is now retired and is serving as player-coach and mentor to the Sheridan Imperial squad.
Wallace got in the ear of Hairston and teammate Leslie McDonald at different points in Tuesday's game, imploring them to take it to the basket and to be tenacious.
"'Sheed, he started telling us we weren't aggressive, and to take it to the basket. So 'Sheed kind of pulled everybody together and told us to be more aggressive," Hairston said. "He's just a big voice. He's sceraming at us. He's always looking for us to get out and run, and when we do something wrong he'll tell us to fix it. And if we do it again, he'll yell at us. He's kind of like a father figure and a coach at the same time."
Hairston has been impressed with the progress of McDonald this summer, a year removed from major knee surgery. He's playing hard and without reservation, and progressively getting back to his old self again.
"Leslie's playing like his knee didn't even get hurt last year at this tournament. He's playing with no remorse and that's how we have to play all the time," he said.
Hairston has been making a particular focus this summer out of improving his ability to go around defenders and become more of an outside-inside threat, and he showed a little of that in his 30-pointer Tuesday night.
While three-point shooting is still Hairston's forte, if he can start consistently going around people at the ACC level and getting to the basket, he can become a top of the league-caliber scorer that could help ensure the Tar Heels don't skip a beat in 2012-2013.
"They (opposing defenders) know I can shoot already, so they already pressure up on me (defensively). So if I go past them, it will confuse them and they won't know what to do after that," he said.