Hornets’ draft pick P.J. Hairston exchanges punches with high school player in pick-up game

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P.J. Hairston got drafted in the first round in spite of having been kicked out of North Carolina during college for rule violations in part because teams thought he had matured. Talk to the people around his D-League team and they glowed about his work ethic and how he had wanted to move forward and create a new image of himself.

Then Sunday happened.

Hairston got into an incident with a high school player at a pick-up game, something confirmed by his agent to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.

Juan Morrow, who represents the 6-foot-6, 230-pound Hairston, said his client was playing in a pickup basketball game when tempers flared.

“The other guy pushed (Hairston) and he pushed back. Both shoved each other,” Morrow said in a telephone interview. At that point the altercation escalated into punches, the agent said.

“He swung at P.J. and P.J. swung back,” Morrow said adding that “both connected.”

That’s not how the student saw it

The Hornets released this statement:

“The organization is aware of an incident this afternoon involving P.J. Hairston. We are in the process of gathering additional information and will have no further comment at this time.”

According to some reports it was Barkley, a high school senior, who was the instigator. It might be easier to sort out who started a 2 a.m. bar fight than this incident, especially second and third hand.

But it is irrelevant if the youth started it, Hairston has got to walk away. Yes, tempers can get heated on the court, even in a pickup game. Doesn’t matter. He’s the pro, he’s the guy with everything to lose.

Plus, if a high schooler can get under his skin, what happens when Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett and frankly 400 other guys who talk smack during the games start going at him? And after this you can be sure they will go at him.

The question with Hairston was never his game but rather his mentality. This isn’t helping that perception.