If you'd read prior to the weekend that Joel Berry's Lake Highland squad would win its division of the HSOT Invitational and that Berry would claim the MVP trophy, chances are you wouldn't have flinched. After all, Roy Williams' prized point guard signee already is a state champion and last summer ran the show for Each 1 Teach 1 as it stormed through the loaded Nike field to triumph at the Peach Jam.
So this piece won't introduce anything new from a skills or intangibles standpoint. Rather, the angle here is not what he has added but what he alters for Lake Highland relative to summer play. On the travel circuit, his game could disappoint from a statistical perspective, as he appeared too content to facilitate and step into a background role.
Lake Highland can't afford for him to play that way, however, and Berry responds with alpha scoring from the floor general spot. He uses his powerful body to relentlessly attack off the bounce and draw contact in the paint. He shot 14 free throws in his team's championship tilt at the HSOT versus Kinston, and as the aggressor he will continue to get favorable calls.
His jump shot is inconsistent, but he's threatening enough from range at least to command defenses' respect. That said, he'll need to improve that facet to achieve his potential in college, when he'll face superior size and athleticism to what he does now, but it's a workable shot.
Berry's short stride won't win any contests for Usain Bolt-like grace, but his choppy running actually benefits him on drives. He rarely stumbles when absorbing contact at the point of attack, and his power stride enables him to burrow under defenders — even shorter opponents — then explode to finish at the rim.
He isn't extraordinarily quick or bouncy in a general sense, but what explosion he does possess mostly surfaces on his second step and one-footed leap, after picking up the ball and taking his first step. While not nearly to the same degree, Berry's accelerating second step plays out in the same manner as world class athlete Derrick Rose's when healthy.
Along with that, of course, he's an excellent game manager who prefers to distribute and won't suffer that particular adjustment to college basketball. He understands when to trust his teammates and when not to trust them, and that's why his Jekyll and Hyde game makes sense and why he has produced wins in dissimilar grassroots environments.
I still do not project Berry as a star because I suspect his scoring output will be modest compared to some of the hotter, flashier guards in the country. Still, his skills are impressive, athleticism understated and intangibles clearly top-notch. Look for the winning ways to continue.