CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Joel Berry quietly emerged as North Carolina’s most consistent scorer during its postseason run last year. The junior point guard is no longer able to avoid the glare of the spotlight as he steps into a leading role for the Tar Heels’ 2016-17 season.
Given the efficiency level at which Roy Williams’s up-tempo offense operates, it’s understandable that turnovers often drive him mad. As such, players that cough up the ball more than twice a game often find themselves running extra at practice during the course of the season.
Berry knows firsthand. He committed three or more turnovers in 11 games last season as UNC’s primary ball handler. As his sophomore season shifted into postseason play, however, the Apopka, Fla. native reversed that trend, turning the ball over eight times in UNC’s final eight games after committing 18 turnovers in the first eight games of the season.
His scoring ability was consistent throughout – Berry was UNC’s top 3-point shooter (37.6%) and spot-up shooter (57.3 aFG%) – but his ability to cut down on turnovers while dishing out more assists late elevated him into a Williams-era point guard that is required to transcend a team into the nation’s elite.
“We always want to get a shot every time we come down the court,” Berry said at UNC’s media day this week. “We want to give the defense a chance to make a mistake. I just started valuing the ball more. That’s something that we needed. We had all of the tools in the world to score the ball.”
His offseason work was fine-tuning his shot to boost his shooting percentages while also taking more of an initiative in scoring the ball, as well as providing more scoring opportunities for his teammates.
“What I want to do a little bit more is penetrate the lane so that we can get Justin and Theo and some of our shooters open because I think this year we’re going to shoot the ball a lot better,” Berry said.
Williams indicated that UNC’s scoring burden early in the season will fall to Berry and classmate Justin Jackson. Berry was second on the team in scoring last season with 12.8 points per game.
“I think Joel’s just got to keep doing what he’s doing right now,” Williams said. “He’s being more aggressive offensively, which I want him to do because he shoots the ball so well.”
Berry proved he’s capable of carrying the team late last season. Look no further than his ACC Tournament Most Valuable Player award or his All-Final Four recognition for evidence of that fact. There’s also reason to expect a step forward this season, considering the various junior point guards that have excelled under Williams in Chapel Hill.
“I grew up watching Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson and seeing how those guys left their legacy here,” Berry said, “so I want to go down the same path as they did. They won national championships, so I want the same thing for myself.”