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Charlotte Hornets first-round pick P.J. Hairston was involved in an altercation during a pickup game at a local YMCA on Sunday in which a high school player alleges he was sucker-punched by the former North Carolina standout.
"We were playing open gym and I was running up the court and he hit me in the forehead with his fist," said Northern Durham High rising senior Kentrell Barkley, who is being recruited by numerous mid-major college programs. "I walked up to him and asked him what happened and then he hit me again in the neck."
Hairston's agent, Juan Morrow, confirmed to ESPN that his client, selected 26th overall in last month's NBA draft, did throw a punch at the 6-foot-5, 195-pound Barkley. However, Morrow said it was in retaliation.
|P.J. Hairston, the 26th overall pick in the NBA draft, said at his introductory news conference that he's ready to move forward with his career after "some bumps in the road that I had to overcome."|
"The pickup game got heated, the kid swung at P.J. and P.J. swung back," Morrow said.
The Durham Police Department said they had no information about the incident when contacted Sunday night, and it's unclear if police were called.
Barkley said he did nothing to antagonize Hairston, who has a recent history of off-court issues while at North Carolina.
"Kentrell's team had beaten P.J. a few times and they were winning again," said Vince Phillips, a friend of Barkley's who played at Southern Durham High and just finished his freshman year at Coastal Carolina University on an academic scholarship. "P.J. was talking to him, then he got the ball, looked up the court and dribbled to Kentrell full-speed, threw his fist and then went and scored. Then he hit him again."
"I'm a lifelong UNC fan and I played against P.J. in high school," Phillips added. "I've always rooted for him -- even with all the stuff that happened last year. But after this, I don't think I could look him in the face."
Phillips said there was a previous incident with another player on the court.
"It's not like it was just one guy," Phillips said. "P.J. was looking for problems."
Barkley said that after he was hit the second time, several people broke up the altercation as the pair stood face-to-face. Barkley said that Hairston and a friend left prior to the arrival of the local police. Barkley, 17, filed a police report and told ESPN that he intends to press charges against Hairston despite not sustaining any injuries. Barkley said he had never met Hairston prior to the incident, although he was aware of who he was from his career at North Carolina.
Morrow told ESPN.com that Hairston has spoken to Hornets general manager Rick Cho and coach Steve Clifford about the situation, which occurred at approximately 5:30 p.m. ET on Sunday night. Morrow said that he expects Hairston to join the team tomorrow in Charlotte for practice before accompanying the team to Las Vegas for summer league later this week.
"P.J. did not go out and beat up a little kid like some people want to make it out to be," Morrow said.
The Hornets released a statement on Sunday night, saying: "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.
"They are aware of the situation," Morrow said. Barkley, who said he is taking accelerated honors classes at N.C. Central, told ESPN that his story would be confirmed when a video taken by the YMCA is released.
This is the latest issue for Hairston, who was forced to play for the Texas Legends in the NBA Development League last season after being suspended by North Carolina following an NCAA investigation into his use of rental vehicles tied to former felon and party promoter Haydn "Fats" Thomas.
Hairston did not play a single game for the Tar Heels last season and North Carolina opted not to seek reinstatement for the standout guard.
Authorities cited Hairston in May and June 2013 while he was driving vehicles linked to Thomas, the second time leading to a later-dismissed charge for misdemeanor marijuana possession.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.