On Monday night, the North Carolina Tar Heels and Villanova Wildcats take the court on Monday seeking an NCAA championship. North Carolina is well-known for their powerful front line epitomized by unanimous All-American Brice Johnson.
The Tar Heels have other potent weapons like forwards Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks. Marcus Paige is the shooting guard, but there is another player that really helps make the North Carolina offense go.
Sophomore point guard Joel Berry II can score (12.6 points per game), but he thrives on getting the ball to teammates without making turnovers. Berry had 147 assists on the season and only 59 turnovers.
That comes to 2.5 assists per game to every turnover. In fact, he set a North Carolina record this season for fewest turnovers per game by a point guard with 1.51
This should not come as a surprise to those who follow high school basketball in the Orlando region. Berry was a star at Lakeland Highland Prep School in Orlando and left many records that future players can only hope to achieve.
Berry and Lakeland Highland won Class 4A state championship in 2013 and 2014 under Coach Jason Vallery. He was Florida’s Mr. Basketball for three consecutive years and only the second to ever accomplish the feat. Former North Carolina legend and Daytona Beach native Vince Carter was the other.
He was also a McDonald’s All-American and a member of the U.S. Under-17 team that won a gold medal in Lithuania in 2012.
On Monday night, Berry will try to do for North Carolina what he did for the Highlanders two and three years ago. That means win a championship by getting the ball to the teammate with the best shot. Sometimes that will be him.
He is not flashy. Most of the headlines go to seniors like Paige and Johnson. Berry just plays his role and plays it well.
“He’s been our most consistent player all year,” Tar Heels’ Coach Roy Williams told ESPN.
That is a pretty sound compliment coming from a head coach to a sophomore on a team with upper classmen star players, but Berry knows his role.
“I just do what I do,” said Berry. “With guys like Brice and Marcus, my job is pretty easy.”
Of course he understates his role and his value, but on Monday night his job will be anything but easy. Villanova is a team that can score and Berry’s counterpart, Ryan Arcidiacono, plays the game the same way.
The Wildcats’ star scores 12.4 points per game and has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.8. He is scoring three points more per game during the NCAA tournament while still keeping his teammates involved.
Monday’s game will have two teams that are playing at the top of their games led by two point guards who are performing at peak level. Both should be well worth watching.