Berry Providing Boost

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Freshman guard Joel Berry II has added a defensive presence to No. 15 North Carolina’s backcourt since returning from a groin injury that sidelined him for seven games.

Berry II, who played his high school ball at Lake Highland Prep in Apopka, Fla., initially strained his groin in November. Fast forward two months to Jan. 13, 2015 – the day before UNC’s matchup with N.C. State in Raleigh – and Berry II re-aggravated the strained adductor in practice.

Berry II told reporters following UNC’s win at PNC Arena the decision had been made to sit him for several weeks as a precautionary measure. The thinking being that it would be better for him to heal up during the middle of the conference schedule instead of waiting and risking another re-aggravation closer to postseason play.

That decision appears to have been a quality one. His treatment included a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection, several days of rest due to soreness and then a steady course of conditioning work to strengthen the strained adductor and return to an adequate comfort level.

Berry II played 10 minutes in his first game back at Boston College on Feb. 7, although he indicated after the win that he was on emergency call of sorts for the previous game against Virginia if Marcus Paige or Nate Britt had gotten into foul trouble. His first live action in practice, however, didn’t come until Feb. 5.

The 6-foot, 195-pound point guard described the Boston College game as a “testing day,” noting that UNC’s mid-week ACC bye provided seven days of immediate rest. That re-acclimation period in Boston was apparently not needed as Berry II won the coaching staff’s defensive player of the game award for the second time in his career.

With no lingering effects following his initial return to practice and the win in Chestnut Hill, Berry II logged a career-high 28 minutes in the loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday, tying his career high with eight points, setting a new career high with six assists and committing zero turnovers.

“He played 28 minutes, which is more than I was counting on playing him, but he was playing better than some of the guys we had out there, so we went with him as long as he was okay, health-wise,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said on his radio show on Monday night.

Williams also said that Berry and Paige were the only two Tar Heels eligible for the defensive player of the game award against Pittsburgh. Qualifying for the honor requires that a player make at least twice as many good defensive plays as bad ones.

Paige won the award for the fifth time this season.

Berry’s defensive ability could be critical down the stretch for a team that struggles at times to limit dribble penetration.

“At times, Joel does a better job staying in front of the basketball, but he’s still in that freshman class kind of thing,” Williams said. “The consistency is not there. I am hoping he will get it and I am hoping he will get it before the end of this season, but I know I want him to get it before the end of his career. Marcus is really good at staying in front of the basketball. We need Joel to get to that stage as well.”

Inside Carolina Top Stories