Full-Court Press: There is no I in team, but there's one in suspension
Philadelphia, PA – A few of college basketball's marquee names will be watching from the sidelines next season thanks to poor judgement and selfishness.
P.J. Hairston of North Carolina is the latest player to be suspended indefinitely because of off-the-court missteps. Hairston was arrested at a checkpoint in early June for possession of marijuana and driving without a license. The car the junior wing was driving was rented by a convicted felon and party promoter named Haydn Thomas, and a gun was also fond on the outside of the vehicle. All the charges from that arrest were dropped in early July which may have led Hairston to thinking he was immune to the rules as he was caught on Sunday driving 93 mph in a 65 mph zone. Coach Roy Williams had no choice but to implement a harsh punishment on Hairston, who was expected to be one of the team leaders after averaging 14.6 points per game last season as a sophomore.
The Tar Heels will be a weaker team in 2013-14 without Hairston. A good season would have warranted some serious interest from NBA scouts which could have presented him with a chance to leave school early for a big pay day. Now, any player close to his talent level will receive an automatic edge due to his undeniable immaturity. North Carolina may take an initial hit, but nobody is irreplaceable.
Williams has been one of the top recruiters in college basketball since he took over the Kansas program back in 1988-89. He has sent 29 players to the NBA over the course of his career and that list is bound to grow with junior forward James Michael McAdoo and a loaded 2014 recruiting class. There will never be a shortage of players wishing to wear the same uniform as former greats Michael Jordan and James Worthy.
The suspension of Hairston, which may end up being his first step toward a permanent exit from the program, sends a strong message that UNC values prestige over winning.
Marshall Henderson of Ole Miss finds himself in an almost identical situation after failing a drug test on July 10. The Rebels were one of the surprise teams in the nation last season, and Henderson stole the show on multiple occasions with his fearless shot selection and polarizing demeanor. The superstar shooting guard has a history of off-court issues that have held back his career. He was arrested as a high school senior for attempting to buy marijuana with counterfeit money, and was suspended from Utah for a game as a freshman for throwing a punch at an opponent.
Henderson became notorious last season as he taunted opposing student sections consistently while leading Ole Miss to its first SEC championship since 1981. He took some heat when he labeled the SEC coaches as "losers" after being voted to the Second Team.
The stability of Ole Miss as a program is not in the same realm as UNC. The Rebels will not only be hurt in the short-term by Henderson's absence, but for years to come. Although the Rebels play in one of the top conferences in the nation, it is a struggle for coach Andy Kennedy to convince elite recruits to join his squad. Adding Henderson to the program was a risky move, especially after losing both Dundrecous Nelson and Jelan Kendrick for behavioral issues during the 2011-12 campaign.
Kennedy may find himself on the hot seat sooner rather than later for rolling the dice.
Ole Miss is not the only team in the SEC that unexpectedly lost its leading scorer during the off-season. Vanderbilt's Kedren Johnson was suspended from the school for one full year for violation of team rules. The junior guard responded to his mistake properly by taking full ownership. Johnson asked the school's athletic communications office to post an apologetic letter on Vandy's official web page.
"As we get closer to starting the new school year, I feel it is my responsibility to inform everyone of some disappointing news," Johnson wrote. "I have been suspended as a student from Vanderbilt University for one year for a mistake I made, the result of using some very poor judgement. That also means I will not be on the basketball team this upcoming season.
"It hurts me when I realize the consequences of my action, which happened near the end of the last school year. It was a violation of the good conduct expected of all Vanderbilt students. I take full responsibility and now must begin working to regain the trust and respect of my school, the student body, our fans and especially my coaches and friends on the team. I understand this will take time.
"I have let down a lot of people including my own family, Coach Stallings and my teammates. I plan to do everything I can to return to Vanderbilt next year.
"While I won't be on the basketball court, I will be the team's biggest fan. I look forward to fulfilling my obligations and regaining my status as a student at this great school."
Hairston, Henderson and Johnson are lucky that they live in an era of second and third chances. There are countless stories of strong individuals overcoming adversity to find success throughout history, and there is no reason all three can't learn from their mistakes and bounce back. Hopefully, their miscues serve as a reminder to the rest of the NCAA basketball community of the unavoidable responsibility that comes with the territory.