Hairston embodies Falcons' basketball
James Hairston's impact on the Connellsville Area's boys basketball program has been profound -- both on and off the court.
"He brought an excitement to the team that might be impossible to replace," said Falcons coach Nick Bosnic. "He made Connellsville basketball an event. From ticket sales to the concession stands, everything picked up. He's the reason people wanted to come see us."
Hairston rarely disappointed. The 6-foot-3 senior point guard was the WPIAL's second-leading scorer during the regular season, averaging 26.7 points, and led the Falcons (26-4) to their first appearance in the WPIAL Class AAAA championship game since 1980.
He finished his high school career with 2,245 points, the 10th highest total in WPIAL history.
"James has been a great player for us," said Bosnic, whose stint at Connellsville began in Hairston's sophomore season. "We always knew that when we walked into a gym, we might see something special from him."
Hairston scored at least 20 points in 28 of Connellsville's 30 games this season, and led the team in rebounds (12.2) and steals (6.2) per game. Penn Hills, which split two playoff games with the Falcons, held him to 14 points twice.
"He reminds me of when we had Drew (Schifino)," said Penn Hills coach Jim Rocco after Connellsville nipped Penn Hills 50-48 in a WPIAL Class AAAA second-round playoff game. "We knew when we needed someone to make a play, (Drew) would do it. The great ones make the great plays when the game is on the line."
If Hairston didn't make the clutch play, at least he was afforded an opportunity to do so. He missed a 3-point attempt with 4.5 seconds left in the rematch with Penn Hills, and the Indians escaped with a 55-54 victory in a PIAA second-round game. Penn Hills went on to win the Class AAAA state title.
"I think we realized that we were as good as Penn Hills, and they won the state title," Bosnic said. "We wouldn't have made the WPIAL final (a 57-47 loss to Chartiers Valley) or been in a position to beat Penn Hills without James."
Hairston is talented enough to play NCAA Division I basketball in college, but he hasn't scored high enough on the SAT to be eligible as a freshman. Bosnic said Hairston likely will attend junior college or a prep school.
"As a player and as a playmaker, he was one of a kind," Bosnic said. "I don't know if I'll ever coach another player like him again."