CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - There is a certain pressure put on a team’s best player, especially at a school with expectations like North Carolina. It can come from the media, from his own coach, or even from the opposing defense’s heavy assignments on him.
“If you're the first guy everybody is talking about, they go with you to the water fountain,” Roy Williams said at his press conference on Thursday.
That is why junior forward Justin Jackson, who was named a Naismith Award finalist this week, can find relief with classmate Joel Berry by his side.
Jackson has broken out as the Tar Heels’ star player this season, leading Williams’s team in scoring (18.4 ppg) and field goals made per game (6.6). UNC has depended on Jackson’s scoring this year as he’s led the team in points 17 times.
The season didn’t start that way, though. Berry led the Tar Heels in scoring in four of their first seven games, which helped him earn the Maui Invitational MVP award. In total, he’s topped the scorer’s sheet eight times this season, three times against ranked opponents.
Williams says the duo sharing the load, especially in scoring, has taken the pressure away from one of them feeling the need to do everything.
“I think they've done a nice job of handling it together,” Williams said. “I think they like the fact that the other one gets a little bit of attention, too, instead of one of them getting all of the attention.”
While Jackson has seen the majority of accolades this season, Berry is still second in scoring (14.7 ppg) and leads the team in 3-point percentage (40.9%), assists (3.8 apg) and steals (1.4).
Neither one of them feels the need to be “the guy” on offense, according to Williams.
“I think they've handled it very well,” he said. “It's been a sharing thing… they've basically faced it all year and done pretty well with it.”
How has your team responded to Monday night?
“I have no idea. Tuesday they lifted and we brought them in and showed them the clips and plays that we picked out and we tried to teach and I was critical when I needed to be and praising when I felt like I needed to be. Then we had yesterday off, so this will be the first time that I’ve really seen them since… this will be there first time there’s any interaction with basketball. We didn’t play as well as we needed to play. Their defense was much stronger than our offense. We took some bad shots in the second half, in the first half we turned it over every other time we touched the ball so there wasn’t a lot of praising going on. We didn’t play very well.”
What did your offense not do that it was supposed to do against Virginia?
“We didn't set our screens solidly enough, didn't move sharply enough, didn't move hard enough, didn't attack and take care of the basketball. I could give you a hundred things because there's not one thing that I thought we did well. So whatever we did I didn't like any of it. I don't think there's anybody on our team that did what we wanted to do offensively in that game.”
Last year you went on a long run after losing to Virginia. How much did that loss play into what happened after?
“It’s a little different… it’s strange though because we lost Virginia at Virginia on February 27th of last year and February 27th of this year. Last year on the bus I told them, ‘We’re still in control. We are in charge of how we finish.’ We went on a great run and won 10 in a row… I was disappointed last year at Virginia but I think I was more disappointed in how we played this year. There are some similarities but we’ll have to wait another week or two to see what happens.”
In your experience can a loss late in the regular season create a turning point for your team heading into the postseason?
“I don’t know. Last year I think I would have tried to push them to understand that we’re still in control of our own destiny if we had won that game. When you lose it does exaggerate your feelings quite a bit. In 2009 we were 0-2 and I think that was the turning point of the year was the conversation we had in the locker room at Wake Forest. Last year I think the big thing that got us going was going to Duke and playing really well and winning over there… It differs from year to year. I don’t know until the season’s over with that I can turn back and say that was the turning point.”
What similarities and differences do you see between the way Duke uses Jayson Tatum and how they used Justise Winslow two years ago?
“Winslow was really explosive but Jayson is longer. Justise didn’t make a lot of outside shots, but he made probably the two biggest plays in both games we played with two three point shots… one and their place and one here. Jayson is more of a distributor than Justise was. Both of them are really, really gifted players. Jayson in the second half I thought was just so aggressive taking the ball to the basket and trying to score. He was probably mad at the way he played in the first half.”
What kind of impact has Stilman White had on this program?
“Stilman has been a very important part over the last two or three years of preparing our guys to get ready to play because that's been his role. His freshman year he was thrust in the spot of not preparing anybody but getting himself prepared. I still believe if we had been able to get to the Final Four…. it would have been one of the great stories of all time. For us and for me it was something where I thought he did pretty daggum well, so you remember that. He's had some health problems with his foot when he came back and he's fought all of them.”
What have you seen in Grayson Allen’s game this year? Is he as aggressive as he was last year?
“It depends on what game you're watching. I'm sitting at Cameron and the sucker made four threes in the first half and I thought the sucker was pretty daggum aggressive…. I thought he was extremely aggressive and just maybe not aggressive in taking the ball to the basket and getting to the free throw line. I'd have to look and see how many threes he's taken this year compared to last year and what his percentages are, but in our game he took two shots where he didn't hesitate. You have to evaluate all of that.”