Roy Williams has had the pleasure of coaching a few fine young point guards in his 10 years at North Carolina. As amazing as Raymond Felton (recruited by Matt Doherty in 2002), Ty Lawson and Kendall Marshall were as Tar Heels, the Hall of Famer may have saved the best for last.
Joel Berry is one of the premier point guards of his class, ranked No. 3 at his position and No. 14 overall on the ESPN 100. Starting in 2014, he'll be building his own legacy at UNC.
And he could end up one of the program's all-time greats.
So what is it that makes this rising high school senior so special? Let's start from the top.
What jumps out the most when watching Berry is his basketball IQ. One should expect that from an elite point guard, but there is a calm confidence about him that assures you he knows what he is doing.
Many young, athletic points have no clue when it comes to pace. They don't have a feel for the game or their teammates. It's all about dropping the next flashy dime or lighting up the nets.
Not with Berry. Nothing is forced. He just takes what the defense gives him.
What makes him so deadly is he can make defenses pay in a variety of ways. He's the assignment nobody wants.
Berry has outstanding handles for a junior and knows how to rock the defender with change-of-pace. When he decides to take off, he has a strong enough body to push through or absorb contact at the rim.
Despite his 6'0" frame, he isn't an easy block, either.
He holds the ball firmly against his body to ward off potential burglars. His release is quick and low, making it hard for shot-blockers to detect the ball's trajectory.
I've seen him surrounded by defenders to the point Berry is no longer visible. Then, somehow, the ball spurts from the crowd and gently floats into the net.
The kid is a magician.
His abilities force the defender to play a little off of him to prevent the drive, but that just opens up space for Berry to drop a trey. And he was burning up the nets from deep with a high rate of efficiency during this summer.
According to ESPN's Dave Telep (subscription required), Berry converted 43 percent of his three-point attempts during the Nike EYBL regular season.
As Telep points out, he was even better when the games carried more weight:
During his final three EYBL playoff games, Berry averaged 15.0 points and 8.3 assists, made 7-for-11 from deep (63 percent) and turned it over just six times. When the lights are brightest, he's truly at his best.
That's just the offensive side of Berry, though. We can't go without mentioning his defensive prowess—another sign of his early blossoming.
One-on-one, Berry occasionally faces height disadvantages, but he makes up for that with quick hands and feet. He does an excellent job of staying planted in front of his man, forcing difficult shots and picking pockets when he sees an opening.
He's also a surprisingly talented blocker for his size, pinning the rock against the backboard in transition. When he isn't swatting shots or poking the ball loose from behind, he'll slide in position to take a charge without hesitation.
When it comes to basketball maturity, Berry is simply on a another level within his age group. He was managing games as a sophomore in high school as well—or better—than many sophomore points in college.
He's only grown from there.
ESPN's Paul Biancardi (subscription required) shared the same sentiments after watching the young star this summer:
Too many players just show up and play, some compete to win and a select few play to win every single time out. This is where Berry distinguishes himself as a leader and a winner.
His winning approach and attitude is what you hope for in a player and what you can always expect with him.
That's Joel Berry.
He won't often wow you with flashy plays. He won't always fill up the stat sheets with points and assists—though, he usually does.
What Joel Berry does is fill up the win columns with his impeccable game management and willingness to do whatever it takes to put his team on top.
Berry finished his junior season with a state championship and his second Florida Gatorade Player of the Year. Then he went on to tear up the summer sessions, leading his team to a 21-game winning streak that culminated in five of six EYBL championships.
Joel Berry simply has everything one could possibly want from a floor general, and he is just heading into his senior year of high school.
It's tough to imagine where his game will be a few years from now.
But there's a good chance we'll be debating whether Phil Ford or Joel Berry was North Carolina's greatest point guard of all time.
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