UNC Basketball: An Homage to Tar Heel legend Joel Berry II

DURHAM, NC - MARCH 03: Joel Berry II
DURHAM, NC - MARCH 03: Joel Berry II /

‘Tough little nut,’ ‘Junkyard Dog’ ‘Mr. Basketball,’ ‘Final Four Most Outstanding Player’ — these are a few of the titles that describe Joel Berry II and encompass his outstanding playing career. Most Tar Heel fans will remember him best for his 20 and 22-point performances in back-to-back NCAA title games, the first player since Bill Walton to do so.

After Berry announced his retirement on Tuesday night, Carolina fans began to reflect on his decorated career at UNC. He will certainly be remembered as a fierce competitor — one that famously broke his hand punching a door after losing at a video game. Unfortunately, that incident sidelined him for the start of the 2017-18 season, but is as much a part of his story as him nearly leaving the program altogether after his freshman season, as well as the time he was publicly dissed by TV Teddy.

Particularly in the day and age of the NCAA transfer portal, Joel Berry’s self-reflection and determination to change himself after a disappointing freshman season that failed to meet expectations strikes a chord with the Tar Heel faithful. His relationship with his parents and the courage to put the locus of responsibility squarely on his own shoulders changed the course of history for the player and his alma mater.

UNC Basketball
GLENDALE, AZ – APRIL 03: Justin Jackson #44, Theo Pinson #1, Isaiah Hicks #4, Joel Berry II #2 and Kennedy Meeks #3 of the North Carolina Tar Heels look on in the second half against the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the 2017 NCAA Men’s Final Four National Championship game at University of Phoenix Stadium on April 3, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. /

His 1,811 points and 451 assists in a Tar Heel uniform rank 14th and 13th respectively at UNC, while his 266 made three-pointers are second-place all-time. And if you’re wondering, he shot 36.6 percent from beyond the arc in his career. In addition to that, his 83 percent free throw shooting (89 percent as a senior) was dependable to close out tight victories.

Joel Berry’s impact extends well beyond the statistics, however. His commitment to UNC amid a lengthy and public NCAA investigation and the stability that his career brought to the UNC program are impossible to measure, and difficult to even put into words. He was a hard-working athlete that put the team first, and possessed the intangibles to win big at the collegiate level. He played in 60 ACC wins during his career — the most for any Tar Heel past or present — and 118 overall wins during a memorable span of success under head coach Roy Williams.

During his time on campus at Chapel Hill, Berry was an ACC regular season champion, an ACC Tournament champion and a NCAA national champion. The guy was a downright gritty winner; period. He certainly belongs on the list of UNC basketball greats.

Berry played on two teams that deserved national championships. He will be remembered for playing through injury, specifically during the 2017 NCAA Championship run when he played on two extremely swollen and painful ankles.

He opted to return for his senior season after initially declaring for the NBA Draft. Alongside his class of ’18 teammate, Theo Pinson, Berry earned first team All-ACC honors that season, and was voted third team All-American. He won the Dean E. Smith Most Valuable Player Award that year, too.

Carolina fans open their hearts to all who don the best blue in sports, and grit it out on the hardwood, but especially endearing are those who stay on campus for four years. Earlier in Roy Williams’ tenure at UNC, Tyler Hansbrough defined the archetypical four-year standout. But in the twilight of Williams’ storied career, it was Joel Berry who carried the mantle.

Tough little nut, all Carolina fans wish you nothing but the best on the next steps of your journey! Again, we thank you for the determination, resilience and courage that you displayed in coming to UNC, for sticking it out through down times and for showing us all how to win and play like a champion in everything you did for Carolina basketball.

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