UNC Basketball: 5 freshman that would have started for other programs

SYRACUSE, NY - MARCH 27: Marvin Williams
SYRACUSE, NY - MARCH 27: Marvin Williams /
6 of 6
LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 26: Joel Berry II /

Joel Berry II

There’s a reason why J.P. Tokoto left the University of North Carolina after just three seasons, and it wasn’t because his pro prospects were soaring through the roof. It wasn’t because NBA scouts and general managers were knocking down his door or because his name was on every mock draft.

It’s because his playing time in Chapel Hill was about to substantially decrease. Why? Because of the Tar Heels’ outstanding freshman class, led by wing shooter Justin Jackson and up-and-coming freshman point guard Joel Berry II.

Although Jackson was already a starter, Berry wasn’t. His performance throughout the season, though, would demand more playing time in the coming seasons.

Berry was a top-30 recruit from Apopka, Florida that joined the Tar Heels in 2014 with the likes of Jackson and Theo Pinson. And from the start, Roy Williams saw Berry as the heir to Marcus Paige at the point guard position.

Berry didn’t start a single game as a freshman, and he didn’t play a crucial part in the Tar Heels’ success. That distinction went to incumbent back court starter Paige and big man Brice Johnson. Berry’s play in just 13.2 minutes per game, though, was enough to show coaches and fans, alike, the direction that the team was best suited to go in.

And they were all right.

Berry followed up a promising freshman season by helping the Tar Heels to an appearance in the 2016 NCAA Championship Game. And it didn’t stop with that. Berry almost single-handedly kept the Tar Heels in the game during the first half, scoring 15 of his 20 points before the intermission.

Despite losing to Villanova on a last-second Kris Jenkins three-pointer, Berry and the Tar Heels had put together an incredible season. Not only that, but the team had a nucleus, led by Berry, good enough to make another deep run the next year.

And again, Berry followed that season up with an even more impressive encore performance.

As a junior, he led the Tar Heels back to the title game where North Carolina beat Gonzaga and avenged the prior season’s title game loss. He scored 22 points and was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.

Next: Harrison Barnes takes 150 kids to the movies

And his saga in Chapel Hill continues, leading this year’s Tar Heels to a 21-7 record thus far, despite losing a number of key players from 2017’s title team and facing the country’s No. 1-ranked strength of schedule.