Numerous elite prospects have arisen from the Sunshine State over the years, and Joel Berry announced his candidacy to join those ranks during the 2011 summer. A strong and savvy rising sophomore with the 17-under Each 1 Teach 1 squad, he flashed his credentials at AAU Nationals.
He then scintillated in 2011-12, becoming the first player in state history to capture the Mr. Basketball award as a sophomore. He carried that momentum into the spring and, at the eve of the 2012 April evaluation period, already had drawn offers from Miami and South Florida while North Carolina and others also became involved.
Berry turned in outstanding performances that summer, reaching a crescendo at the EYBL Finals/Peach Jam in July. By August, he had claimed offers from Ohio State, Marquette, Maryland and N.C. State, and UNC followed shortly thereafter. Berry visited Chapel Hill officially this past January and committed in the wake of that trip.
He went on to lead Lake Highland to the state championship and captured his second straight Mr. Basketball award. Following that success, he once again entered the EYBL circuit with E1T1. Berry didn't play his best ball during the spring or early summer, but he and his team made big strides as the weeks progressed.
Berry performed audaciously at the Global Challenge and then spearheaded E1T1's charge at the Peach Jam. He ultimately helped lead the club to the prestigious championship, reinforcing his winning credentials.
Few point guards in the class possess Berry's physical strength. He isn't a freakish weight room product, he's a naturally powerful athlete with a wide base and strong, broad shoulders. (His father is a powerlifter, so here his bloodlines prevailed.) He's at his best in the lane, where he uses that strength to muscle past defenders and finish in traffic.
His aggressive moves off the dribble result in frequent trips to the free throw line, and he also uses the rim to shield himself from shotblockers and finishes effectively via reverses.
In addition to his scoring inside, Berry is an outstanding passer in the paint. He finds teammates spotting up for threes and also dishes cleverly to big men for dunks. He understands the balance required between shooting and passing, and thus defenses can't play him disproportionately in either direction.
His jump shot doesn't stand out as a primary feature, but he does comfortably knock in elbow jumpers and other shots from 12-17 feet. He elevates well and boasts a quick release, so he get can get these shots against taller opponents.
And offense isn't the only end of the court where Berry excels. He's potentially an outstanding defender because he specializes in getting steals off his opponent's dribble, leading to easy layups.
Then there's the winning formula he has concocted for various teams in various settings, truly the gold standard of intangible qualities.
Without question, Berry must improve from the three-point stripe. He doesn't wield the smoothest or most balanced looking jump shot, and his inconsistency from deep therefore doesn't surprise.
Along with an inconsistent long-distance jumper, Berry has struggled at times turning the corner. In matchups against players approximately as strong, he couldn't regularly get into the lane and make plays without use of a ball screen. For that reason he may enjoy his greatest success when utilized in pick and roll situations, as some of the elite quicksters may be able to negate his slashing and drive-and-kick skills.
In fairness, he's still recovering from a knee injury suffered last season and played more explosively as the summer wore one.
Berry's presence on the roster presents North Carolina with opportunity and burden. Roy Williams attempts to include all of his relevant scholarship players in the rotation, and balancing time for three point guards — also including Marcus Paige and Nate Britt — appears daunting.
On the other hand, Berry ultimately could move off the ball for significant stretches due to his defensive versatility. He's strong enough to defend most two guards, and Williams in the past has utilized a double-point guard approach.
Depending upon the various roster machinations, Berry could become a multi-year starter for the Tar Heels. Because he's on the shorter side and isn't proven to be a great shooter, he'll have to get into the lane consistently in order to become a truly elite college scorer. But from a playmaking and leadership perspective, few players combine his intelligence, unselfishness and knack for finishing on the preferred side of the scoreboard.