HSOT: Joel Berry Spotlight

HSOT: Joel Berry Spotlight

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Joel Berry seemingly did it all in leading Lake Highland to a HSOT Holiday Invitational title.

In the tournament opener, the UNC signee played a pass-first role from his point guard position, handing out six assists in a rout. In the semifinal, his team turned to him for points and so he had a shoot-first approach, taking 32 shots en route to 40 points. In the championship game, he was the picture of all-around efficiency, including posting 34 points on just 16 shots. And throughout all three games he played aggressive defense, no matter the situation, and was his team's leading rebounder (10.0/game).

That's why the Most Valuable Player award at the end of the week was such a no-brainer selection.

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There were multiple interviews with Berry and his coach during the tournament. Here are those quotes ...

Q&A WITH JOEL BERRY

How do you describe your team's offensive philosophy and your role in it?

Our philosophy is we like to engage two defenders. I'm not going to blow by past somebody, but I want to engage two defenders so I can kick it out to my teammates for threes. We've got good three point shooters, so my job as a point guard is not only to score but to get my teammates involved…

How was it to play well in front of the fans that will be watching you in college?

It's a great experience, not only just for me but my teammates. This is a big tournament for our team and for our school – our basketball program – and I just want to enjoy experiences with them also. It's not all about me and you can see that out on the court. ...

It's great to be able to play in front of future fans. Just to be able to get here and get a feel for how it is. I got a feeling, so I look forward to it – I'm just excited for next year.

What are some of the things you're working on to prepare for college?

The biggest thing is my leadership as a point guard. You've got to be vocal and when things aren't going your way you have to be able to settle down the team and have that poker face. So that's what I'm trying to focus on this year – being vocal and being a leader.

What about the focus skills-wise?

I want to work on my floater more. Just continue to work on ball handling and the things I already know how to do.

Can you revisit why you picked Carolina?

I think it fits my game. Coach Williams is a great coach, not only on the court but off the court. I think he can continue to build me as a young man. It's my style of play and I've been a Tar Heel fan for the longest. Being able to pick a school that I've always been watching was great.

What made you a Tar Heel fan?

I was a big fan of Ty Lawson, (Sean) May and all the guys. They just compete and I wanted to be a part that and that fraternity.

How much have you been following their season this year?

I've followed it a lot. They have up and downs, but the good thing is they are competing, but you can't teach that. I know it's probably hard for Coach Williams, but they've gone through a lot with P.J. and Leslie. It's hard but you can see they are fighting through it.

Have you talked to the players about what that experience has been like?

I recently talked to the assistant coach and he said it's hard but they are adjusting. When things don't go your way you've got to fight through adversity and that's what they're doing now – and I think they're doing a good job handling that.

What are your thoughts on watching Marcus Paige this season?

He's in a great position. He's a scorer. I played against him my freshman year and he was a scorer. So him going to the two-spot, with Nate playing the point, he can show his scoring abilities.

Is there time to hang out with your future teammate Justin Jackson at an event like this, with him also being a part of the tournament?

… Not really, because this is like a business trip to us. But I got a chance to bond with him and Theo (Pinson) over the summer and we went to most of the camps together. We're looking forward to next year.

Do you keep in touch with current members of the UNC team?

Yes, Marcus Paige, Kennedy Meeks and Nate Britt, we talk just because I want to know how it is to come in as a freshman and what you have to adjust to and things like that.

What has Nate shared about that freshman adjustment?

The fast pace. They get the ball out and they go. We kind of do that now but at the next level it's even faster. That's one of the things I won't have a big problem adjusting to, but I'll have to adjust to.

Do you plan on getting back to Chapel Hill during the season?

Yes, I look forward to going to the Duke game. I want to see the atmosphere for that game.

What do you plan on majoring in at UNC?

I want to major in sport science. I've been around sports all my life so why not choose something you've been around the longest?

At the end of the summer you talked about getting a break so your knee could finish healing (after suffering a torn meniscus last season). Were you able to do that?

Yeah, I was able to rest a lot at the end of summer and fall. I played with my guys during the fall league but my coaches put in the other players to build their experience. That's why we're looking good this year, because he sacrificed my playing time to be able to build the program.

Is the knee back at 100 percent?

I would say close to 100 percent. You're not always 100 percent, but I'd say close.

You were the game's leading rebounder from the PG position in the semifinal game and led your team in rebounding for the event …

I like to try and have an all-around game. I don't like to be just one dimensional. I like to play defense, I like to do whatever it takes to win. They were a good offensive rebounding team so I tried to step up and get some rebounds to help my teammates out.

Does playing in an event like this, with three straight days of games, during which you're playing heavy minutes against physical opponents and asked to do it all, wear on you?

I think I have a lot in my tank. That's what I train for, that's why I get up at six in the morning to train my body to be able to play a lot of minutes that my coaches rely on me for. … I like being physical and it played right into my hands.

It seemed like you did it all this week – leading scorer, leading passer, leading rebounder …

I'm an all-around player. Not only can I score the ball but I can also distribute the ball and get my teammates involved. That's what a point guard is and that's what I'll be doing at the next level. It goes to show that you can't just say ‘I'm a scorer." I can get to the hole but if they crash in I can kick it to my teammates.

I've been the guy on the team to score the ball when I have the opportunity and the coaches look to me to do that, but they also look for me to be a leader, keep my teammates calm, distribute the ball to get everyone involved, but also to play defense and get some key rebounds.

What's your overall takeaway from this event?

It was a very good week here. We came up here on a mission to win the championship and we were able to do that and we were able get better as a team, and get closer as a team – this is what you take trips for: to win a tournament and be able to build a bond with your teammates. On the court you can tell our team is close because we trust each other on the offensive and defensive end.

Was there added significance that you won the title with Roy Williams watching from the sidelines?

It feels great. I love seeing Coach Williams here because a lot of coaches, when their players sign, they push them off and move on to the next player to try and get someone else. When Coach Williams started recruiting me, he told me ‘Even when you commit to my school, I'll always be at your games like I'm still recruiting you.' So it's always great to see Coach Williams in the stands.

State title, EYBL title, now an HSOT Invitational title, with individual accolades along the way – 2013 was pretty good to you, no?

It's been a great year. I've had my fair share of playing with some of the top players in the nation and then I get to come back to my high school and play with individuals that I love being around. …. I wish I could have another year, but unfortunately I can't, so I'm going to enjoy it for right now and next year I look forward to being at Carolina.

Q&A WITH LAKE HIGHLAND COACH JASON VALLERY

Getting so many rebounds from the guy that brings the ball up the floor, how special is that?

I could talk about Joel over and over again. What I love about him the most is he doesn't take advantage of his ability. He lets the rest of the team play. Yeah, he went and got 10 rebounds … and had 6 assists (in the opener). On a nightly basis if we asked him to score 35 points a game, he would. But for us to be a good team and continue to achieve the goals we've set forth, JB does a great job of blending in at times.

What style of offense does your team typically play and how does Berry facilitate that?

We're trying to run as much as we can to keep the defense on their heels. We've got a talented point guard that can really push the ball up the floor and he sees it better than anyone I've ever coached. I don't know if you paid attention to a lot of his passes – they were flare reads. I'd share with him ‘Hey, I think the wraparound in the post is open,' they would take the post away and he'd flare it out to the corner for the wide open three. He's got vision there that you can't coach.

We saw Joel be the facilitator but then also have a scorer's mentality this week…

Joel is unique on our team in that he can get to the rim almost anytime he wants. I love the fact that no matter if the call came or not, Joel was continuing to drive and attack the basket and make the right read. …

Can you reflect on the three-game MVP performance you got from Joel at this event?

Unbelievable player, as most people now. But, again, I think he's special and unique because he does it in a fundamental way within the system that we teach and preach every day.

We've talked about his offense, and rebounding, but can you speak to the defensive impact he had?

As Joel continued to progress as a player – and this is his fourth year (with us) – every year he went after something in the offseason to work on. A couple years ago he decided he's going to be an unbelievable on-the-ball defender and I think you saw the benefits from the hard work he's put in to that regard.

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SCOUTING VIDEO

Inside Carolina filmed Berry's first two games at the event to compile the following scouting videos ...

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EVALUATION
by Rob Harrington

If you'd read prior to the weekend that Joel Berry's Lake Highland squad would win its division of the HSOT Invitational and that Berry would claim the MVP trophy, chances are you wouldn't have flinched. After all, Roy Williams' prized point guard signee already is a state champion and last summer ran the show for Each 1 Teach 1 as it stormed through the loaded Nike field to triumph at the Peach Jam.

So this piece won't introduce anything new from a skills or intangibles standpoint. Rather, the angle here is not what he has added but what he alters for Lake Highland relative to summer play. On the travel circuit, his game could disappoint from a statistical perspective, as he appeared too content to facilitate and step into a background role.

Lake Highland can't afford for him to play that way, however, and Berry responds with alpha scoring from the floor general spot. He uses his powerful body to relentlessly attack off the bounce and draw contact in the paint. He shot 14 free throws in his team's championship tilt at the HSOT versus Kinston, and as the aggressor he will continue to get favorable calls.

His jump shot is inconsistent, but he's threatening enough from range at least to command defenses' respect. That said, he'll need to improve that facet to achieve his potential in college, when he'll face superior size and athleticism to what he does now, but it's a workable shot.

Berry's short stride won't win any contests for Usain Bolt-like grace, but his choppy running actually benefits him on drives. He rarely stumbles when absorbing contact at the point of attack, and his power stride enables him to burrow under defenders — even shorter opponents — then explode to finish at the rim.

He isn't extraordinarily quick or bouncy in a general sense, but what explosion he does possess mostly surfaces on his second step and one-footed leap, after picking up the ball and taking his first step. While not nearly to the same degree, Berry's accelerating second step plays out in the same manner as world class athlete Derrick Rose's when healthy.

Along with that, of course, he's an excellent game manager who prefers to distribute and won't suffer that particular adjustment to college basketball. He understands when to trust his teammates and when not to trust them, and that's why his Jekyll and Hyde game makes sense and why he has produced wins in dissimilar grassroots environments.

I still do not project Berry as a college star because I suspect his scoring output will be modest compared to some of the hotter, flashier guards in the country. Still, his skills are impressive, athleticism understated and intangibles clearly top-notch. Look for the winning ways to continue.

Joel Berry Profile

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