By Adam Lucas
When Joel Berry II returns to campus this coming August, he will be one of the most accomplished players to ever return to Carolina for another season of college basketball.
Berry has won an ACC Tournament MVP, a Final Four MOP and a national title. He's already qualified to have his jersey in the Smith Center rafters. Those are the credentials of a player who would be completely justified in moving on to another challenge.
But Berry spent just 48 hours in the NBA Draft eligibility pool before removing his name one week ago. Why the change of heart? He realized he had accomplished plenty in college basketball, but that didn't necessarily mean he was optimally ready for the next level.
“I thought a lot about my time here and how each and every year I've gotten better and better,” Berry said. “I just don't want to rush the process. I want to be able to go into the NBA as a young man who can take care of myself. I know I need one more year to learn how to do that. I need to focus on taking care of my body, eating right, and how I approach the game.”
He'll get to work on those areas of his professional preparation while experiencing his senior year at Carolina. Having just watched Kennedy Meeks, Nate Britt and Isaiah Hicks enjoy four years in Chapel Hill, Berry knows being a senior comes with some perks.
Earlier this year, the point guard did a joint interview with Ryan Switzer, who at the time was completing his time in Chapel Hill and facing the reality of leaving town. Switzer's insight about the difficulty of leaving Carolina had an obvious impact on Berry (the full interview is available in Born & Bred, sent free to all Rams Club members).
“Each and every thing we do next year, I'm going to try to take it in and enjoy the moment,” Berry said. “The longer you're here, the more you realize how many memories you make throughout the year. It's very hard to leave that, and you're leaving somewhere you've been for four years to go somewhere you don't even know. I had a home before I got here, and now I have a home in Chapel Hill. Being in Chapel Hill and the memories you make throughout the season are irreplaceable.”
Don't worry about a senior Berry, playing in an arena where he's already guaranteed to have his jersey hang from the rafters, becoming complacent. It's been a fun month since he helped guide the Tar Heels to the national title, with hundreds of picture requests and constant congratulations on campus.
But students finish exams next week, and then most will return home, leaving Berry at the Smith Center with his goals for his final season as a Tar Heel.
“I've never been the tallest or the most athletic, so I've been overlooked a lot,” he says. “That's what I think about when I feel like I'm getting too high. I remember that at one point, there was always someone who thought I couldn't do something. That's what pushes me to be the best. And at Carolina, I have Coach Williams, who challenges me in ways I never thought I would be challenged. To have someone like that behind me continues to push me. I still think I can get better as a player and a person, and that's why I want to come back.”