UNC Basketball: Where does Joel Berry II rank among all-time Tar Heel greats?

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 03: Joel Berry II
GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 03: Joel Berry II /

Joel Berry II’s legendary career at North Carolina has come to an end. Let’s take a look at how Berry compares to some of the all-time greats at UNC.

Joel Berry II is one of the most important and decorated players in the history of North Carolina basketball. Berry was not the most talented or physically gifted player to ever suit up for UNC, but the impact he left on the program will be felt forever.

He finished his career 14th in all-time points, 13th in all-time assists, and 2nd in all-time three-pointers made. Berry was the MVP of the 2016 ACC Tournament and the Most Outstanding Player of the 2017 Final Four.

As great as those accolades are, they fail to tell the whole story of Berry’s impact at UNC.

Berry committed to Carolina at a time most would not due to an investigation on an academic scandal from the NCAA . He won on the court, and always carried himself with class off of it.  At a time when negative energy surrounded UNC, Berry was as positive of a leader as he could be.

A good comparison to Berry’s impact is the career of Raymond Felton. Both players came to Carolina when the program was facing some of its darker days.

Berry committed to UNC in the midst of an NCAA investigation, and Felton committed  when the Tar Heels were coming off an 8-20 season and missed the NCAA Tournament. Both players were invaluable leaders at the point guard position, and both players hit huge shots in the National Championship game, Felton in 2005 and Berry in ’17.

Another interesting comparison to Berry’s career is that of James Worthy. Worthy was unquestionably the more talented player, but the two had similar postseason success as the leader of their respective teams.

Both Berry and Worthy used the pain of losing in the National Title game (Worthy in 1981 and Berry in 2016) to fuel them to a National Championship victory the following season. Both achieved the honor of Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four the year they cut down the nets. Berry and Worthy also both suffered early NCAA Tournament losses to Texas A&M, making the comparison eerily similar.

In terms of leadership qualities alone, there are few players in UNC history on the same level as Berry. The heart and determination Berry played with on the court, as well as the example he set off it is almost unparalleled among fellow Carolina greats.

There is not a triumphant story in UNC history quite like the one Berry gave us last March. In the opening game of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, Berry rolled his ankle when he awkwardly stepped on another player’s foot.

Berry got through the next two games without too much pain until he rolled the other ankle on a drive to the basket against Kentucky in the Elite Eight. This injury was more severe, but Berry was able to return late in the game, hitting a huge floater that put UNC in position to seal the victory.

His status was questionable heading into the Final Four, although he did indeed play.

After struggling against Oregon in the National Semifinal, Berry bounced back against Gonzaga on Monday night with a championship performance for the ages, scoring 20 points on TWO bad ankles to lead Carolina to their sixth NCAA title. In the process, he was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.

Tar Heel fans will be telling their children about Berry’s performance for years to come.

After winning MOP and bringing home a championship to Chapel Hill, Berry decided to return to UNC for his senior season. He would be faced with a new challenge, leading a younger and much smaller team than the one that just won a title.

Berry embraced the situation and had the best statistical season of his career. The Apopka, Florida native averaged 17.2 points and 3.2 assists per game, while being named a third-team All-American and first-team All-ACC.

In the closing seconds of UNC’s NCAA Tournament loss to Texas A&M, Berry received a standing ovation from the crowd in Charlotte. Not all of them were Carolina fans, but they knew they were witnessing the conclusion of a special career.

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No, Berry was not as talented as Michael Jordan, and he did not earn the accolades of Tyler Hansbrough. However, he was as important to North Carolina Basketball as either of them and for that, his career and his legacy will be cherished forever.