Radio show notes: Hairston, injuries, suits

Some notes from North Carolina coach Roy Williams’ radio show on Monday night:

SHOULD HAIRSTON START? Sophomore P.J. Hairston has been invaluable to North Carolina this season. He’s averaging 12.3 points and 4.4 rebounds; he’s expanded his offensive game by driving to the ball to the basket more often; he’s improved his defense; he plays the "4" when the Tar Heels go to a smaller lineup; and he scored a career-high 23 points to help his team win at Florida State last Saturday.

And it sounds like he’ll continue to do all of those things in a reserve role.

“Right now, I think he’s more valuable coming off the bench,’’ Williams said when asked about Hairston’s chances of moving into the starting lineup. “I can go all the way back to ’05; we didn’t start Marvin Williams, but he was pretty doggone important for us. But it was important to start Jawad [Williams], and get those great minutes out of Jawad.

“But who knows? I really don’t. I know that, unless someone really screws something up in practice, I know who’s going to start Saturday [versus Maryland]. But I don’t know who’s going to start the next game. It just depends on how they play in practice -- unless it’s someone that’s just earned it over the course of a whole season, or two whole seasons.”

Dexter Strickland, the team’s only scholarship senior, continues to start at shooting guard, while junior Reggie Bullock (the team’s second-leading scorer) starts at small forward.

And although he isn't in the opening five, Hairston’s playing time has increased of late. Over his last four games, he’s averaging 27 minutes per outing.

“P.J.’s really given us a lift,’’ Williams said. “When he comes in the game, the other team’s defense has to change.”

INJURY UPDATE: Williams said there’s a 99.9 percent chance backup point guard Luke Davis (sprained ankle) will not play against Maryland on Saturday. He’s still hopeful that redshirt junior Leslie McDonald, who has missed the last two games because of soreness in his right knee (the same knee that caused him to miss last season, after reconstructive surgery in the summer of 2011) will return.

“Leslie, we did some restricted things with him during practice [Monday], and now we have to see how he responds to the work,’’ Williams said. “First part, he looked like he was going to be OK. And then I think it started bothering him more toward the end, so we sent him out and sent him over the stretch a little bit more.”

SIMMONS SHINES: How did reserve Jackson Simmons -- who ultimately recorded eight points and four rebounds in 15 key minutes during the win at FSU (and on his birthday, no less) -- earn his chance?

By doing some key things really well in practice.

“We’ve tried to work on our freelance half-court offense in the last two to three weeks, and he’s the best screener we have,’’ Williams said. “He’s not running around, doing jumping jacks, hoping someone will throw him the basketball. He’s running around and setting screens and getting his teammates open. You add that together with the fact that he’s getting more offensive rebounds than anyone else in practice.”

Asked if this is now a long-term thing, where Simmons (who is averaging 5.6 minutes for the season) could be inserted to play a bit more in upcoming games, Williams said: “We’ll see.”

FAMILIAR FACE: Former UNC player Matt Doherty, who was fired as UNC’s head coach after the 2002-03 season, was back at the Smith Center last month for the Tar Heels’ win over UNLV. Williams said he gave Doherty the ticket, and although they didn’t get to chat much, Williams was glad to see him back.

“Regardless of what happens, he’s a Tar Heel, he’ll always be a Tar Heel,’’ Williams said. “He worked for me [at Kansas], he played for the team I helped coach, I helped recruit him, and he’s always going to be part of the family. It’s just unfortunate that it didn’t work as well as he wanted it to, and everyone else wanted it to [when was UNC’s head coach]. But Matt Doherty is a Tar Heel, that’s the bottom line, and he always will be.”

SUITED FOR GAMES: Some coaches have taken to wearing more casual attire (such as a polo shirt) during games. Not Williams (except for the during the Maui Invitational).

“Coach Dean Smith once said that if you want to be respected like a businessman, you should look like one,’’ Williams said. “If he ever comes up and tells me not to wear a coat and tie to a game tonight, then I won’t wear it. But I don’t think the man’s ever going to tell me that.

“Ninety-eight percent of the stuff I do, I do because I copied from Coach. He believes that, and I believe it. So that’s the way we do it.”

BRIEFLY: Williams said his team will continue to work on zone defense, even though the lone time they played it at FSU didn’t work out very well.

“We played one possession, and they scored three points out of it. But we worked on it again [Monday]. It’s something we’ve got to continue to work on, because I do believe we’ll play it some more."