Berry Running The Show

FRISCO, Tx. – The makeup of Joel Berry's EYBL team has been evolving, but the future Tar Heel point guard has remained the steady hand behind the wheel. That remained the case this past weekend, which included a marquee matchup against the nation's No. 1-ranked point guard, Tyus Jones.

Berry and his Florida-based Each 1 Teach 1 squad faced Jones and the Minnesota-based Howard Pulley Panthers on Saturday afternoon. The game was one of the most crowded and frenzied atmospheres of the weekend that didn't feature a Texas team, as fans eagerly anticipated the matchup between top guards.

From the tip, it was clear that Berry and Jones would have a battle, but the talent discrepancy around them was a bit startling. E1T1 dominated from the game's opening minutes, jumping out to a 47-24 halftime lead on the way to a 98-70 victory over Howard Pulley.

Berry attacked the rim at the beginning using ball screens and his strength to muscle into the lane or his first step after slowing his pace a bit. He also went to his reliable mid-range pull-up jumper near the right elbow at the beginning of the second half.

Berry finished with a double-double – 10 points, 11 assists, four rebounds, four steals and three turnovers in 26 minutes of play. He was 5-for-8 from the field with no three-pointers or free throws attempted.

Jones finished with 18 points, four assists, two rebounds, three steals and five turnovers in 28 minutes of play, shooting 6-for-10 from the field and 2-for-3 from behind the three-point line while also finishing 4-of-4 from the free throw line.

While Jones is one of the best high school point guards this writer has ever scouted, he is surrounded by mostly low- to mid-major talent with the exception of athletic forward Reid Travis, who is more prospect than player on the offensive end at this point in his career.

Berry on the other hand is surrounded by high-major talent, big-time athletes and potential McDonald's All-Americans. D'Angelo Russell, Duke commit Grayson Allen and 7-1 Trayvon Reed are a few of the many talented players flanking Berry on E1T1 this season and they're all rated in the top 50 in Scout.com's national 2014 rankings.

"I think our spring is going well and we added some new guys -- Grayson Allen and Trayvon Reed," Berry said. "We have an inside presence now and then we have a shooter out on the wing, so I'm able to get to the hole and distribute and get everyone else involved."

Still, there was much to learn about the two elite point guards from the matchup, in which they often guarded each other. It was a face-off that Berry had circled well in advance.

"I was ready for the matchup. I've battled against him at the USA (Camp) when we played over the summer, so we just battled it out and I came out here and I played with a chip on my shoulder," Berry said after the game. "I tried to show people that he might be the No. 1 player in the nation but when you're out on the court all of that stuff goes away."

Berry fits Carolina and Roy Williams' system well because he recognizes that the forward pass is the quickest way to advance and score on a fast break. While many young point guards will run as fast as they can with the ball to initiate fast breaks they don't realize that throwing the ball ahead is much faster and more effective in certain instances.

He recognizes this and does a good job of quickly getting the ball to his talented teammates and letting them make plays in transition. Russell and Allen in particular are adept at shooting from the perimeter and can also make plays of their own off the bounce, and Berry will have similarly talented teammates at Carolina. He puts his guys in position to make plays on the break.

Berry is solid in the halfcourt as well. Because of the spacing and talent of E1T1, they run a lot of 4-out, 1-in – which is prevailing as the lineup of choice for many college programs – and Berry runs well off of high ball screens and uses his strength and quickness to get in the lane and distribute or score.

He didn't attempt a three or a free throw in this particular game because he was finding so many open teammates or just getting to the rim himself. When you score 98 points as a team, your point guard clearly doesn't need a shoot-first mentality.

"I think I've gotten better at passing, looking for the open man and also throwing it up to the big man," Berry said of his offensive game. "Using my strength to get to the hole with my quickness and mid-range shot; those are (still) my biggest strengths. I'm just working on fine-tuning everything; keep working on ball handling, shooting and just being able to lead a team as a point guard."

Berry also felt like he did a good job of defending Jones. The floor general has great instincts defending high ball screens and the athleticism, physicality and the right mentality to be a great on-ball defender at the college level.

Berry utilized his on-ball skills to record two steals in one-on-one perimeter defense against Jones, and then showed his great anticipation by snatching a couple of passes directed at Jones and turned them into transition baskets for himself or teammates. While Berry has the stronger hands, Jones showed quicker hands in getting quick pokes and deflections for steals, including one deflection off of Berry's leg right in front of the Howard Pulley bench before the game got out of hand.

"You learn from what you've done against a top player. It kind of gives you confidence because if you can guard him you can guard anybody in the nation," Berry said of guarding Jones.

E1T1 finished 4-0 on the weekend with Berry running the show, as he averaged 13.3 points and 7.3 assists.

As he continues through the EYBL with what now appears to be one of the most talented AAU teams in the country, he's been satisfied with the spring so far and he said the Carolina coaching staff has said similar things.

"(The coaching staff) just wants me to stay aggressive, keep on playing hard, and keep on playing the way that I was playing when they were first recruiting me," Berry said. "That's what I've been doing and that's what they've been telling me."

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