CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA - Joel Berry II is ready to take any big shot North Carolina needs in his final NCAA Tournament.
The senior was last year’s most outstanding player at the Final Four after helping the Tar Heels win the national championship that had painfully eluded them in 2016. Now the first player in more than four decades to score 20 points in consecutive national title games wants one more deep run.
“I think this year for me it’s just about leaving a legacy,” Berry said in an interview with AP. “I know I’ve done a lot for this program and I know I’ve put a lot into this program. But I want to leave on a good note. I don’t want people for their last thought to be that, ‘Well you know, they won the championship in 2017 . and that was pretty much it.’ “
Berry and the Tar Heels, the No. 2 seed in the West Region, earned a home-state NCAA opener against 15-seed Lipscomb on Friday in Charlotte. They are trying to join Duke (1991-92) and Florida (2006-07) as the only repeat champions since UCLA’s seven straight from 1967-73. They can also become the first to reach three straight finals since Kentucky from 1996-98.
Berry is UNC’s No. 2 scorer (17.1 points), its toughest competitor and a Cousy Award finalist as the nation’s top point guard.
The 182-cm native of Apopka, Florida, isn’t an elite NBA prospect blessed with jump-out-of-the-gym athleticism. Rather, he’s a veteran floor leader who doesn’t shy away from contact and ranks among tradition-rich program’s top 15 in both career scoring and assists.
More importantly, he plays with a determined edge that UNC (25-10) needs as it leans on a small-ball lineup.