Why Did Roy Williams Wait To Start P.J. Hairston?

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Roy Williams knows more about coaching basketball than I could hope to know about anything. I’ll go ahead and admit that to preempt the inevitable criticism from UNC fans. I also enjoy his uptempo offense. It’s a pleasure to watch, especially in an era where most coaches slow the game down in a vain attempt to find the perfect shot. His career numbers are exceptional—a .796 winning percentage, seven Final Fours and two championships.

There’s a reason he’s in the Hall of Fame.

If there’s a reason he didn’t start P.J. Hairston earlier in the season, I hope it’s a good one. Hairston averaged 13.7 points per game in only 16.8 minutes over the nine ACC games he didn’t start. In the two games since he earned the starting job, he’s averaged 26 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, helping Carolina play its best basketball of the season—against Duke and Virginia, no less.

The situation reminds me of another UNC team that underachieved and required an obvious change to its starting lineup. You’ll recall Larry Drew II, the point guard who couldn’t run Roy’s offense, hit a jump shot in an empty gym or even look his teammates in the eye before quitting midseason. You’ll also remember Drew’s backup had exceptional court vision and playmaking ability. With Larry Drew starting, Carolina posted a 12-5 record that lacked a quality win. His final start was a 20-point loss to Georgia Tech. After replacing him with Kendall Marshall, the Heels went on a 17-3 tear, winning the ACC regular season and advancing to the Elite 8.

Roy had his reasons for not starting Marshall then, just as he had his reasons for not starting Hairston earlier this season. My hunch is that both decisions weren’t purely basketball-related. I’m not in the Hall of Fame and my eyes clearly tell me that Carolina is better when Hairston is playing. I’m guessing Roy’s eyes tell him the same thing.

Life is full of tradeoffs. In my opinion, Roy traded wins for something. We won’t know because he won’t tell us.

I just hope that something was worth it. And Tar Heel fans will hope this year’s team can match the 2010-2011 squad’s late-season run.

~Lewis Woodard, WFNZ Sports Radio The Fan 610 AM

Follow on Twitter @LewWoodard

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