Healthier Hairston looking to end slump

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina freshman P.J. Hairston hasn’t really been struggling to hit outside shots for nine years.

It just feels that way to coach Roy Williams.

“He’s been in a shooting slump since 2003, the way I look at it,’’ Williams said during his Friday news conference. "It seems like it’s been that long to me.”

The reserve guard, who played eight minutes in Wednesday’s matchup at Miami after missing the previous game with a sore left foot, came out of the win OK, health-wise, Williams said. The staff was hoping he might be able to participate even more in Friday’s practice than he did earlier this week.

The staff also hoped that he might start making more shots, beginning with Saturday’s game against Clemson. Hairston is 11-for-49 and has made only 6 of his 37 3-point attempts in conference play.

“Earlier in the year, he was really big for us in some games, making some 3s, he really was,’’ Williams said, referring to performances such as Hairston's 5-for-8 effort against South Carolina, and his 3-for-4 output at Kentucky. “But [lately] they haven’t been going in. To me, shooting is a little bit like putting, where the more you talk about it, the more worries you cause.”

Williams doesn't know exactly why Hairston hasn't been connecting. If a player has structural problems or technique issues with his shot, the coaches try to address it.

“With P.J., I don’t see that,” Williams said.

If there’s a question about how a player is practicing, they try to change it, too. And Williams has done that.

“At the shootaround before the game in Miami, I turn around and he’s having some sort of contest from halfway between the two circles -- and he can legitimately shoot a jump shot from that far out,’’ Williams said. “And I said, ‘Excuse me, if I’m shooting 17 dadgum percent, I would shoot one that I’m going to shoot during the game, and that is not one you’re going to be shooting during a game.’

“And he puts his head down like a little puppy, and goes over there and starts working on his shot. But who knows what goes through those kids’ minds.”

Williams said Hairston hasn't been taking bad shots; they just haven't been swishing through. Even so, small forward Harrison Barnes reiterated on Friday that he is confident that Hairston has the confidence to pull out of his slump.

Hopefully soon.

“I learned a great lesson one time from Jimmy Valvano,’’ Williams said. “It was either in the ACC or the old Big Four. His kids must have missed a bunch of free throws, and I’m sitting on the end of the court, scouting it. He came down and yelled at a player, and the player turned and looked at him. And I said, ‘Well, it’s going to be interesting what he says, about his free throws.’

“And he said, ‘Make the blanket-blank free throw.’ Then he turned around and the kid went back, and he made the free throws. That really helped me a lot.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.