Berry's Winning Ways

NORTH AUGUSTA, Ga. --- Joel Berry is in a good place. His college decision is behind him, he's confident in his abilities, and he's winning.

"I've worked a lot on my game the last couple years and I feel right now I'm very comfortable with my game," the future Tar Heel point guard said at the Peach Jam. "I know my strong points and my weaknesses. I know if I stick to my strong points and stay with that my game is at its best."

That's been on full display on the AAU and camp circuit. After leading his E1T1 team to a 13-5 EYBL record and berth in the EYBL Finals (aka Peach Jam), Berry played the role of facilitator at the NBPA Top 100 Camp and then set out to improve his game at the Nike Skills Academies. When he returned, he was ready to make a run at the Peach Jam title.

"Going into the (Nike) camp opened my eyes and I learned a lot as a point guard," Berry said. "Bringing that back to my team helped a lot, being a leader, knowing when to slow down the ball and having a lot of composure as a point guard.

Berry's goals at the Peach Jam were pretty simple. He wanted the championship trophy, and as the floor general on E1T1, he felt it was his job to lead his team there. Individual honors, or praise from scouts in attendance, wasn't on his radar.

"I like to win," he said. "I'm a winner. I play to win. I don't play for rankings. That stuff will take care of itself. I play to win. If you worry about the rankings, you're being selfish and you're not thinking about team. I'm a team player, I've always had that mentality because at the end of the day rankings don't matter. That's off-the-court politics and once you step on the court all that goes away."

Berry and E1T1 rolled through their first five Peach Jam games – winning each by double-digits – and into the playoffs. In the three playoff games, Berry took his game to another level: he averaged 15.0 points, 8.3 assists, shot 52-percent from the field, 57-percent on three-point attempts and sported a 4.2 assist-to-turnover ratio. In the clutch, Berry was at his best.

"As a point guard you're the one who has to calm everybody down, have composure – you can't be the one to be rattled because you're the one with the ball in your hand setting everything up for everybody else," he said. "That's part of being a point guard and I think that's what Coach (Roy) Williams looks for. A college game can get very hyped and he likes point guards who have composure that can calm down the team and run the team."

With two more weeks of summer ball to go, Berry's 2013 already includes a high school state championship, his second Florida Mr. Basketball award, NBPA Top 100 Camp all-star honors, and now an EYBL Peach Jam championship. That's a winner, indeed.

And this has all been accomplished with a knee injury that's yet to fully recover. Berry suffered a torn left meniscus last December and the busy schedule has prevented a return to full strength.

"I wouldn't say (I'm at) 100 percent, but I've been working on it a lot," he said. "I go to training two times a week when I'm off, doing a lot of rehab and just longevity because I'll be playing basketball for a long time. It's probably about 75-85 percent but once I get home and calm down I'll start working on it some."

There hasn't been much time for calm considering his high school team's run to the state title, followed by 18 EYBL regular season games in April and May, the NBPA Top 100 Camp and Nike Skills Academy in June, another Skills Academy a week later, and then the Peach Jam, Nike Global Challenge and the Showcase to close the month of July.

"I only took two and a half weeks off (after the injury)," Berry said. "I came back way before I was supposed to come back. It's because I just couldn't stand to sit out and watch my team struggle. I wanted to get back in and play. It went down a little bit because I haven't done a lot of rehab but once everything calms down I'll start back."

If there's room to nitpick about his performances on the circuit this year, Berry points to the need to minimize turnovers – even though his assist-to-turnover ratio in EYBL play exceeded 3:1. He also hasn't finished drives at the rim as well as a year ago, and the knee injury has undoubtedly played a role in that.

"Getting to the hole and being able to jump high and finish - I feel like some of that has been taken away," he said of the injury's impact. "And (I notice it) defensively. With my explosiveness, it's still there but it could be better."

Two more weeks of the summer circuit remain before Berry can return home, further rehab his knee and prepare for his final high school season. His North Carolina enrollment is now just 11 months away.

"Being committed, a lot of guys can fall off and stop working hard – the (UNC coaches) always express to me to keep doing what I'm doing," said Berry, who plans to return to Chapel Hill for ‘Late Night with Roy' this fall. "Because once you get to college you want to keep it up and keep everything rolling. So I just don't want to get complacent with my game and stop playing hard.

"That's all they tell me – keep doing what you're doing."

Considering the results, that seems to be appropriate advice.

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