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P.J. Hairston's long, strange trip

Hornets rookie PJ Hairston has had an unique road to the NBA, but he believes that it has given him an advantage and a chance to grow up.

Hairston has gone through one of the most unique roads in history to the National Basketball Association.
Hairston has gone through one of the most unique roads in history to the National Basketball Association.
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

P.J. Hairston can relax a little now that he finds himself on a NBA roster,after one of the strangest years an athlete has gone through in recent memory. A year that included: getting in trouble with the law in cars linked to convicted felons twice while at the University of North Carolina, ending his collegiate career midway through the seasonjoining the NBA Developmental League; becoming the first first round draft pick from the D-League when he was drafted 26th overall by the Miami Heat in this year's draft; being represented by an uncertified agent; and having NFL receiver Josh Gordon getting arrested in his car.

Understandably, some were worried when the Hornets acquired Hairston from the Heat. Any team would like to avoid off-the-court issues and distractions, and there are some who worry that Lance Stephenson could provide enough of that (just Google 'Lance Stephenson ear blow" and see what happens). But Hairston seems like a changed man, who has learned from his previous errors and has grown up quite a bit lately.

"I don't really look at (my route to the NBA) as a negative," Hairston said during Hornets' Media Day. "Of course, it was a different route. But, at the same time, when I look back on it, I learned a lot through that route. I've learned how to become an adult. I've learned how to mature. So, (the) different things that I've been through like the D-League, that was a maturing station. It was a start to the NBA - it was showing me what I could do and what I needed to do as a player to better prepare for the NBA. So I look at it all as a positive."

For someone who has been through so much off-the-court distractions, Hairston seemed fully focused on moving on and proving to the Hornets and the rest of the NBA that he was worth the gamble. After a slow start, Hairston lit up the NBA Summer League, helping lead the Hornets to a semifinal appearance - Hairston finished with 27 points and seven boards in the semifinal loss.

"The summer league definitely helped a lot too," Hairston added, "because you get used to the style of play and the up-and-down pace of the game, so it was a lot of fun."

But as much as he learned in the Summer League, it was nothing compared to his time with the Texas Legends of the NBA Developmental League. Seeing his time in Chapel Hill come to an untimely and ugly end, Hairston did his best to focus on the positives of his time in the NBDL - and had some help from a Charlotte Bobcat get him back on his feet

"I learned a lot from the D-League," Hairston said. "I used it more as a learning stage, just playing with guys like Melvin Ely and guys who have played in the NBA for a significant amount of time. Getting their knowledge for the game kind of helped me today (to get) to where I am. Just taking their knowledge and knowing they know so much about the game, it helped me develop a lot better as a player in the D-League.

"Melvin Ely was probably that guy (I looked up to the most)...because (from) the first day, he took me right under his wing and he told me, 'If you need anything, I got you.' And from that day on, that's kinda like who I was with all the time, getting rides from practice to practice. He would just talk to me about what he went through with the draft and the whole draft process and what it's gonna be like. So just having a positive influence like that around you all the time is definitely a good thing, especially if you are new to an area or (doing) something you've never done before."

Perhaps now Marvin Williams could fill in the role that Ely played with the Texas Legends. Williams and Hairston, sharing the Carolina connection - arguably the strongest college connection in the NBA-- played pick-up games in Chapel Hill over the summer and have lockers next to one another.

Regardless, the Hornets provide Hairston another new start, which is part of the reason he chose to stick with #19, the number he wore with the Texas Legends.

"19 was kinda like a fresh start for me," he said. "When I went to the D-League, it was kinda like a new start for me...Someone else had 15, so I could've easily gotten 15, but I was like, 'You know what? I'm gonna try something new. It's a new P.J., so it's a new number.' And 19 was the number that I chose and that was the number I'm going to stick with."

And now we wait to see how the next chapter of Hariston's long, strange trip unfolds.