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.
Berry's recruitment turned into an easy stroll for Williams. He made his one official visit to Chapel Hill, in January 2013, 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, Berry appeared to be a potential elite as a rising junior. He performed very well at the 2012 Peach Jam and followed that up by winning his second straight Florida player of the year award in 2012-13. He performed relatively poorly that spring on the EYBL circuit, but he picked up the pace in July and led Each 1 Teach 1 to the prestigious Peach Jam championship last summer.
He led Lake Highland to its second straight title this past season, winning his third state player of the year award in the process. He earned an invitation to the McDonald's All-American Game and, though he didn't play well in the postseason, will enter UNC as a national top-35 prospect.
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 aggressive moves off the dribble, along with an explosive second step, 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.
He's also a potential plus-defender because he specializes in getting steals off his opponent's dribble, leading to an easy layup. While Paige always focused on thieving passes during his high school career, Berry uses his lower center of gravity, strength and quick hands to rip away dribbles rather than jump the passing lanes. He ranked among EYBL leaders in steals and also bothered opposing big men on strips at McDonald's practices.
As with most UNC commitments, Berry's intangibles are top-notch. He's also more rugged than Paige or Britt and will bring a more physical dimension to the lead guard position. And if he's able to get to the foul line, he'll knock them down (80 percent for E1T1, 86 percent for Lake Highland).
There's also something to be said for winning. Berry's teams consistently have crossed the finish line first, and his 22-point outing in the 2013 Peach Jam final — a 108-104 victory over Theo Pinson and CP3 — stands among his most illustrious prep career highlights.
Without question, Berry must improve from the three-point stripe. That criticism may sound odd given that he nailed a strong 41 percent on threes for E1T1 last year, but he shot poorly at other events and converted just 31 percent from deep for Lake Highland as a senior.
The answer may lie in his number of his attempts. Berry attempted only 56 threes in 23 games for E1T1, while he hoisted 30 threes in Lake Highland's first five games this past season, making only 11. He likely will attempt relatively few threes as a freshman for the Tar Heels, so his effectiveness from deep may not manifest either way until 2015-16, at the earliest.
Along with a questionable jumper, Berry has struggled to turn the corner against elite athletes. He's very strong but just slightly above-average in terms of quickness, and at McDonald's he suffered against more explosive opposition. When prevented from driving the lane he's forced either to attempt long jump shots or else pass the ball ineffectually around the perimeter, because he lacks optimum height to pass over the top.
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 now established as the team's best player, yet not a guarantee to go pro following next season, Berry could spend two years with him and three with Britt.
Of the three incoming freshmen, Berry presented the most formidable evaluation challenge. He fulfilled a profoundly different role for E1T1 and on camp teams than for Lake Highland, and his successes in one setting (such as shooting) might become failures in another.
A bearish assessment may read that Berry's strength advantage will dissipate at the college level, and that he'll forced into lower percentage shots or else generally meager offensive contributions. That's not an unfair concern and explains why he finished ranked No. 34 in the senior class.
But I view him more bullishly. Berry unquestionably is a very solid performer when he's able to get into the lane. That's where his power, passing and scoring ability all shine, and from there he's able to get more wide open, more efficient jump shooting looks. Because neither Paige nor Britt possesses elite quickness, either, UNC's offensive setup is designed to set more high ball screens for guards than was true in the past. Thus, Berry will step into a situation conducive to his success.
His greatest immediate obstacle may prove to be depth at his position. A guy who's accustomed to playing huge minutes — he never has been consistently effective in a part-time role, such as at camps or McDonald's practices — may suffer if he's one part of a three-headed playing time monster.
Berry is best when he's the author, not a co-author, because that's when he's able to imprint his own signature and command the action. It may be a couple years before he enjoys that opportunity at UNC, and it wouldn't surprise me if his production and efficiency rise disproportionately — in other words, not scaled on a per-40 minute basis — upon Paige's departure.
I believe Berry is a more naturally talented and balanced player than Britt, but of course he lacks that critical year of experience. I view he and Britt as a 55/45 proposition in Berry's favor for 2014-15, with Berry establishing himself as the clear starter once Paige departs, whether that's 2015-16 or 2016-17.
Rob provides basketball recruiting coverage for InsideCarolina.com, including reporting from events throughout the country. Rob is a recruiting analyst for Scout.com and is the editor of the national basketball recruiting website PrepStars.com and the print magazine Recruiter's Handbook. 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.