Berry Joining UNC Family

More than anything, Joel Berry wants to leave a legacy wherever he goes. After signing a National Letter of Intent with North Carolina on Wednesday, he can consider his goal reached.

Berry is signing in a small ceremony at Orlando (Fla.) Lake Highland.

"We have two other guys that are signing, too," said Berry. "When I first came in we weren't known for basketball, we were known for lacrosse and volleyball. Hopefully, we've left the program in better shape than it was when we got here."

Berry, a 6-0 point guard, is the first male in his family going on to play sports at a Division I school. His two older sisters both played at Division II schools.

Earlier this year, unofficially, Berry became the first player to take advantage of a new NCAA rule allowing juniors to take official visits beginning on Jan. 1. Berry decided to take his one – and only – official visit to UNC because, after receiving a scholarship offer from Roy Williams, he knew where he wanted to go.

"I grew up watching UNC and their game, which is being fast and getting up and down the court - it fits mine perfectly," he said. "I wanted to see what the program was like and when I got there, I just had that home feeling and that gut feeling that it was the right school for me. I didn't waste any time and I made my decision."

Berry's January commitment, fair or not, was seen as a boon for a UNC program that hadn't had a five-star commitment in nearly 2 ½ years.

Less than two months later, five-star wing Justin Jackson committed to Carolina. Two months after Jackson's pledge, Theo Pinson, another top-30 wing, announced his intentions to play in Chapel Hill.

While Berry's commitment wasn't the sole reason Williams was able to land Pinson and Jackson, it was certainly a contributing factor.

"I wasn't really worried about going through the process and visiting other schools like a lot of recruits are," Berry explained. "Nothing can get better than playing for North Carolina. We're better than any other program in the country. It's not only what's going on now, but it's a line of people that's been through North Carolina. It's a fraternity and that family that you get with going to North Carolina. I think once some guys saw me do it; it might have made it a little easier for them."

Since Pinson's commitment, the trio has stayed in constant contact. They all played on the Nike EYBL circuit over the summer and attended many of the same skills camps. Last month, they attended "Late Night With Roy" and spent the weekend in Chapel Hill together.

"It was a good amount of fun being around them because they're so welcoming and a lot of fun to be around," said Berry. "After that weekend, I honestly didn't want to come back home. I wanted to stay in Chapel Hill."

Lake Highland and Berry tip-off defense of their FHSAA 4A state championship on Nov. 22. For Berry, who averaged 25.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 3.1 steals per game last season, there's one key to winning a second-straight state title.

"We have to get in the mindset of no matter who we play, we have to have the killer instinct and have the chip on our shoulder," he said. "After winning the title, everyone is going to play us like it's the state championship game. We have to stay focused, keep all outside distractions to a minimum and focus on ourselves."

Another successful season for Florida's two-time Mr. Basketball will likely lead to multiple all-star game selections in the spring, including the McDonald's All-American game. If he were selected, Berry would be the sixth UNC point guard under Roy Williams to make the game (Larry Drew, Kendall Marshall, Ty Lawson, Bobby Frasor and Marcus Paige).

"I would love to be a part of those games just because the guys that will get invited are ones I've known since my freshman year," he said. "To go there and bond with them, to play in the scrimmages and do all the community service, I look forward to it if I were to get invited."

Berry watched UNC's season-opening victory over Oakland on Nov. 8. He liked what he saw, especially from his future backcourt teammate, Marcus Paige.

"Coach Williams always puts you in the best situation for yourself," said Berry. "This year that situation for Marcus is on the wing. Everybody knows he's a point guard, but what they don't know is that he can really score and he's a good shooter. Marcus shot the ball really well last week. That's what I'm used to seeing him do during EYBL, that's what he used to do to us."

In a little more than 200 days, Berry will enroll at Carolina and begin his new life as a Tar Heel.

Until then, he's keeping an open line of communication with the UNC staff, and an open line of thought about how – and where – he might be used on the floor.

"We talk a lot actually, they just tell me they can't wait for me to get there," he explained. "I'm comfortable playing off the ball and on the wing. The last couple of years, for my high school and for my AAU teams, usually the ball was always in my hand and I would have to make a play."

"Being able to run off screens and play off the ball, that would be awesome," he continued. "It's hard to score, especially in college, when it's just you against five other players."

Berry plans to make at least one more trip to Chapel Hill this season for a "hype game" like Kentucky or Duke so he can "experience a really good atmosphere" in the Smith Center.

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