Joel Berry II on Playing Injured Junior Year, 'I was Close to Calling It'
Play Hard. Play Smart. Play Together.
The motto every North Carolina player sees before the hit the court to face competition. Head coach Roy Williams expects a level of teamwork that exceeds star power - a win is orchestrated by a team.
During the Heels 'Road to Redemption', Joel Berry II injured both his ankle heading to Championship night. Berry rolled his ankle when he landed awkwardly on a 3-point shot during the first-round blowout against Texas Southern. In the Elite Eight, the Florida native rolled his left ankle on a drive, playing the remainder of the tournament on two injured ankles.
"I was so close to calling it. I laid there, and I realized what had happened, and it was actually my other ankle. I was like, "I think this is it," and when I got up and walked back to the locker room, I was about to tell the coaches and tell the trainer, tell Doug that I was going to call it and not play." Berry revealed, "But then something just, it just hit me, and I got up and started running again, and I felt fine. I was like, "You know what? I can't give up on my teammates like that." That was a turning moment for me, and I was able to sacrifice my pain and what I was going through to help the team know that we could get back to that point to where we wanted to be."
Berry's sacrifice was evident throughout the tournament with his teammates, staff, and fans. Coach Williams was often asked about Berry's injuries stating that they were all game-time decisions and based on his comfort level, but for Berry, sitting out was never an option - it was Championship or bust.
"Other than getting my jersey up in the rafters, that was something that I told myself when I got to Carolina that I wanted to accomplish, and we were able to do that." Berry said, "I thought we were going to do it our sophomore year, and I guess it just wasn't our time. We came back, and people don't know how hard it is to make two national championships back to back. It's tough. The amount of mental that has to go into it and being ready for having to come and play every night, I mean, it's tough."
But not impossible. Berry's sacrifice resulted in North Carolina's sixth championship banner and his jersey hanging among Tar Heel legends. During the 2016-2017 season, Berry led the Heels to the ACC regular-season title averaging 14.6 points, 3.6 assists, 3.1 rebounds with 43% FG and 34% behind the arc. The point guard was a Bob Cousy Award finalist, USBWAAll-District, NCAA South Region All-Tournament Team, All-Final Four Team, and Final Four Most Outstanding Player.
Berry exemplified 'The Carolina Way.'
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