One thing we can say for sure about P.J. Hairston: The dude really needs his own car.
Hairston -- a junior guard who was North Carolina's leading scorer last season -- got pulled over last Sunday night outside Salisbury, N.C., for doing 93 in a 65. He was driving a 2008 Acura registered to a 21-year-old Charlotte woman. Back in May, he was driving a 2012 Camaro when he was pulled over for speeding. Then in June, he was driving a 2013 Yukon when he was stopped in Durham and arrested for marijuana possession and driving without a license. (Those charges have since been dropped.)
Maybe you could write this off as a young man making the roads of North Carolina into his personal Autobahn. But those last two cars might cause bigger problems. They were rentals linked to a Durham man named Haydn "Fats" Thomas, a convicted felon who's facing drug and gun charges from an arrest in December. Thomas might also have connections to other UNC athletes. You can bet the NCAA is in the process of figuring that out.
After three stops in three months, North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams had to do something. He suspended Hairston indefinitely as of Sunday night. It's the offseason, so any punishment short of kicking a player off the team doesn't carry much weight. It's a long way to the beginning of basketball season, and longer still until the games really matter in February and March. Hairston could miss a bunch of games and still help the team. And North Carolina has talent either way.
The bigger wound is to the university as a whole.
I've lived in North Carolina almost 25 years, and people here take special pride in two things: our barbecue (best in the world, and don't even start, Texas) and our public colleges. The flagship school in Chapel Hill is always ranked among the country's best public universities. Part of North Carolina's pride comes from the notion that UNC plays big-time college sports but has kept its soul intact. Dean Smith, the legendary basketball coach, coined the phrase "The Carolina Way" to sum up the idea of doing great things while holding on to the highest ethics.
But UNC has spent the last three years trying to dig out of deep-rooted scandals involving the athletic department. Agents doled out so many benefits to football players and coaches that 14 players ended up missing all or part of a season and football coach Butch Davis was fired. And details are still coming out about phony classes -- largely populated by UNC athletes -- that date back to the early '90s.
In short, it turns out The Carolina Way has not been all that different from The Florida Way or The Oklahoma Way or -- yeah, name pretty much any power in college sports.
Through all of this, the one thing UNC fans could lean on was that most of the troubles involved football. They wouldn't mind a good football team, but their hearts belong to basketball. And so P.J. Hairston's highway adventures cut doubly deep. They threaten both the UNC basketball season and The Carolina Way.
Right now, Hairston is just a knucklehead with a lead foot. But if he ends up being the gateway to the NCAA coming down on Tar Heel basketball … well, it would be best if he stayed off North Carolina roads for a while. Like, forever.