Orlando (Fla.) Lake Highland
Class of 2014
Despite signing point guards Marcus Paige and Nate Britt in consecutive classes, Roy Williams opted to add a floor general for the third straight year.
At a glance Berry may appear to be overkill at one position. Apparent depth can prove an illusion, however, as UNC's point guard collapse in the 2012 NCAA Tournament attests. That spring, unheralded freshman Stilman White stood in admirably but couldn't fill the void left by injuries to starter Kendall Marshall and backup Dexter Strickland.
Thus, even ignoring the fact that Berry likely will arrive in Chapel Hill with greater accolades than either Paige or Britt, he could play a critical role for the 2014-15 squad and beyond.
Berry's recruitment turned into an easy stroll for Williams. He made his one official visit to Chapel Hill, in January, and committed immediately thereafter. He had drawn offers from Ohio State, Kansas, Florida and others, but he appeared to favor UNC wire to wire.
On the court, he performed in outstanding fashion as a rising junior at the EYBL Finals in Georgia. He followed that up with his second straight Florida player of the year award, rare for an underclassman in an established talent hotbed.
He entered the spring travel circuit with universal top-20 status and some top-10 consideration, and after a slow start he improved his play at the most recent EYBL session held in Dallas. We won't know until later this summer where he'll settle in terms of rankings, but he appears to be a strong candidate for next spring's McDonald's All-American Game.
Few point guards in the class possess Berry's physical strength. He isn't a freakish product of the weight room, 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 quick, 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 with 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 10-17 feet. He elevates well and boasts a quick release, so he get can get these shots against taller opponents.
And offense actually may not be the end of the court where Berry excels most. He's potentially a game-breaking defender because he specializes in getting steals off his opponent's dribble, leading to an easy layup. While Paige always focused on thieving passes, Berry uses his lower center of gravity, strength and quick hands to rip away dribbles rather than jump the passing lanes. He's among the EYBL leaders in steals, and he has competed against other blue-chip guards such as Tyus Jones.
As with most UNC commitments, Berry's intangibles are top-notch. He's also more rugged than Paige or Britt and will bring a new dimension to the lead guard position.
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 a suspect deep jumper, Berry struggled through the first two EYBL spring events turning the corner. In matchups against players approximately as strong, he was unable to get into the lane and make plays. And when inside, he frequently didn't finish as well in traffic as he did in 2012.
In fairness, he's still recovering from a knee injury suffered this past season and by all accounts played more explosively in Dallas. If that trend holds and he regains his 2012 burst, he should penetrate more effectively and post bigger numbers than he did through the first two EYBL sessions.
Berry's presence on the roster presents Carolina with opportunity and burden. Williams attempts to include all of his relevant scholarship players in the rotation, and balancing time for three point guards appears daunting. With Paige unlikely to depart early for the NBA, Berry could spend two seasons with him and three with Britt.
On the other hand, UNC wing recruiting continues to be murky. The Tar Heels definitely need more wings for depth — and especially a true shooting guard — and ultimately Berry could move off the ball for significant stretches. He's strong enough to defend most two guards, and Williams in the past has utilized a double-point guard approach.
Because Paige is a promising outside shooter, Berry's relative ineffectiveness from deep may prove to be less of a concern. The downside is that all three point guards are 6-1 or shorter, and thus a height discrepancy could harm the team on occasion. Still, most college games don't boil down to a height advantage at shooting guard, and a Paige/Berry backcourt would present numerous other troubles for opponents.
On an individual basis, I view Berry as a potential multi-year starter for the Heels. Because he's on the shorter side and isn't proven to be a great shooter, I think he'll have to get into the lane consistently in order for him to become a truly elite college player. From that perspective, then, I'll watch him very closely this summer to evaluate his chances as a penetrator.
And even if he doesn't fulfill top-10 visions, he'll bring a strong, aggressive, slashing style to a backcourt that might otherwise lack it. His defensive prowess also should earn him plaudits from the coaching staff, and chances are he'll play a meaningful role for the team as a freshman.
Rob provides basketball recruiting coverage for InsideCarolina.com, including reporting from events throughout the country. Rob is editor of the national basketball recruiting website PrepStars.com and the print magazine Recruiter's Handbook. He also covers UNC basketball games for the Independent Weekly and writes a freelance column for USAToday.com. Rob is a member of the Naismith committee honoring the nation's best high school player and is on the selection committee for the McDonald's All-American Game.