CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina fans will have to wait a little bit longer to find out if junior point guard Joel Berry will be available to play against No. 6 Kentucky in Las Vegas on Saturday.
UNC has not practiced this week due to exams, Roy Williams said on Thursday.
Thursday afternoon’s practice will be the coaching staff’s first look at Berry’s progress after missing the last two games with a sprained left ankle. The team took Monday off and had 45-minute shooting and conditioning workouts on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“I haven’t seen him, but he did do the running and shooting,” Williams said at his pre-Kentucky press conference. “He’s on the practice plan today. He’s not out, he is limited, but I do have him on the practice plan today.”
Berry was expected to be sidelined for 7-10 days with the ankle injury, and he is now past that time window.
“I’m not optimistic at all, but I’m not pessimistic,” Williams said. “I haven’t seen him. I have no opinion.”
Junior wing Justin Jackson was a bit more optimistic in his estimate.
“I would expect him [to play] just because of the type of competitor he is,” Jackson said. “He’s had quite a bit of time off to get that ankle right, but I guess we’ll see how he’s doing. He seems like he’s pretty upbeat about playing.”
Berry is averaging 14.8 points and 4.7 assists per game. He’s shooting 49.4 percent from the floor, including a 41.9 percent mark from 3-point range.
by Evan Chronis
Besides shooting, have you been okay with the rest of Nate Britt’s game?
“Steals, very much so. He was one of the two or three biggest factors in us winning the game against Tennessee. The assists have been okay, but your turnovers need to be down. If you want to be a point guard that can stay in front of the basketball, then don’t turn it over. Then anything positive you do after that is really good. We’ve turned it over too much from that position. I’ve chastised him a little bit and I’m hoping they understand it even more now…. It hasn’t shown up in games.”
After looking at them, how fast is Kentucky?
“I have looked at them a little bit, but I don’t really concentrate on anything really until the day before. I haven’t watched any of their games more than three or four minutes, but I did read some of their stats. They take a shot every 13.5 seconds, that’s the second fastest in the country and I know we don’t take it that fast. I’d like to take it faster than that, but they’re extremely athletic, they go up and down the court…. We want to play at a fast pace, too. I’d screw up everybody if I said we were going to start in four corners and slow it down.”
How do you balance our strengths when your strengths can also be a strength of Kentucky?
“What we have to do is run back better on the defensive end. Make sure we get our defensive transitions set. A lot of people say you should run a running team, but wait until after 40 minutes on Saturday and I’ll tell you if I really liked it. I think I’d shock everybody and held it.”
Is it too early in the season to say you might not get that senior leadership out of Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks? And does that matter?
“Guys can be great leaders, but if you really want to be that high-level leader you’ve got to produce…. Isaiah, Nate, and Kennedy haven’t shown those numbers yet, but I’ll tell you this: they’re still good leaders. I really believe that. They’re good kids, they really care. Leadership comes from success, whether it’s Joel or Justin (Jackson), and I think they’re helping with the leadership aspect of it. You’ve got to back up what you’re saying with actions to be the top level. I still think somebody can be a good leader and not even get off the bench.”
How is Theo Pinson progressing since his last evaluation?
“He went by me six feet yesterday, jogged six feet then stopped, turned around and grinned like I was supposed to get excited about that. I don’t know about him. I think early next week they’re going to take the CT scan, which is always the next step after the X-rays. If that shows more healing then they’ll make a decision on whether to wait another week or start him in some basketball activities.”
What’s the next step you hope to see Isaiah Hicks improve in?
“Rebound the basketball has got to be the No. 1 thing. We’ve got to have guys go get the rebound. Scoring will be good if it’s a high percentage. He’s got to lose himself in the game a little bit. A lot of times seniors will listen to other people and they’ll say ‘you’ve got to be doing this, you’ve got to being doing that.’ All I need Isaiah to do is the same dang thing he did last year, except he’s going to have more opportunities because he’s got more minutes. I don’t need him to do anything else. I don’t need him to play point guard, I don’t need him to shoot threes, I don’t need him to decide who substitutes.”
What do you think the program gets out of playing neutral site games like these in Vegas?
“I think college basketball is still growing, still doing things. Everybody says the attendance is down, the ratings are down, but I love playing in these events. It just ticks me off that someone goes from 16 to 18 then 18 to 20 in conference games and still expects you to do those types of things. There will be a time and place for me to make my feelings known about that, but I did ask ‘would you rather have North Carolina and Kentucky or North Carolina and somebody at the bottom of the league who is really struggling?’ We have agreed to go ahead and do this three more years. I like the idea, I think it’s good. When you go from 16 to 18 then 18 to 20 I don’t like it that much more. You have to decide how much of a balance you want to have.”