GREENVILLE, S.C. – After a long night’s sleep, Joel Berry was a bit anxious about rolling out of bed and putting weight on the right ankle that stole the spotlight during top-seeded North Carolina’s 103-64 dismantling of Texas Southern on Friday.
“I was nervous about that first step that I was going to take when I got out of bed,” Berry told reporters on Saturday afternoon. “I’m not going to lie to you, I did limp a little bit.”
The second-team All-ACC point guard elevated for a 3-pointer early in the second half against the Tigers, only to land on a defender’s foot and turn his ankle. Berry hit the floor, grabbed his ankle and grimaced in pain, thereby shaking the Tar Heel fan base from its opening round victory slumber.
Berry entered a packed UNC locker room at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on Saturday for media interviews without any limp to his stride.
“I feel fine,” Berry said. “It’s still a little sore, but I’ve been doing a lot of treatment, just trying to get back to where I was before I hurt my ankle yesterday. But right now I’m feeling pretty good.”
The Apopka, Fla. native admitted to not being 100 percent, which then prompted several follow-ups regarding how healthy he actually is.
“I’d say I’m about 75-80 percent,” Berry said. “I’m never a guy that lets something like this stop me from playing. I want to play and that’s my goal. I’m not 100 percent, but I’m getting close.”
Berry answered the litany of questions with cupping marks down his right leg, which provided a glimpse into the morning’s treatment. He estimated spending three hours with athletic trainer Doug Halverson on Saturday morning in addition to recovery work late Friday night. In addition to cupping therapy, Berry spent time in the pool to accelerate the healing process.
“That’s what it takes,” Berry said. “We only have a short amount of time to get me ready for tomorrow. With the game being at six o’clock, that gives me a little bit more time to get prepared, but I’ve been doing all I can this morning. I want to get out there and play, so it’s worth it.”
While Roy Williams took a cautious approach with the media, explaining that Berry would not practice on Saturday and that he’s questionable for Sunday’s second round matchup with No. 8 seed Arkansas, his point guard’s recovery mentality was not merely playing, but playing at a high level.
“I would like to play at 100 percent, but more than likely I probably won’t,” Berry said. “Hopefully it will be close to it.”
Williams has a long-standing method of handling such injuries, which is to allow his trainer to work with the player in question up until pregame warmups, if necessary, before consulting with the trainer and making a final decision. Berry’s already working on his spiel if he’s given the red light on Sunday evening.
“I expect to play,” Berry said. “I want to play. If he tries to sit me, I’m going to try to convince him my best that I want to play and that I’m good.”