Joel Berry: I'm Glad I Stayed In College Four Years

The NBA covets upside and potential, but Berry leaves North Carolina with a college degree and a national championship

Tiki and Tierney
April 17, 2018 - 5:32 pm

USA Today Images


Joel Berry will leave North Carolina as a national champion, a Final Four Most Outstanding Player, and an ACC Tournament MVP.

That’s quite a resume, especially given how lost Berry felt when he arrived in Chapel Hill in 2014.

“When I first got there, I felt like I didn’t know how to play basketball,” Berry said on Tiki and Tierney. “Then I just took it upon myself to try to be the player that I wanted to be and be the player that coach knew I could be. Now I can look back and say that I gave it my all and I did all that I could to help the university and help myself.”

He certainly did. Berry become one of the top players in the country, and playing in the ACC had a lot to do with that. If it’s not the deepest conference in America, it’s likely the most diverse.

“You got Florida State, who, they kind of play like us – a fast-paced, pressure-on-defense (team),” Berry said. “Then the next game you might play against Virginia, which is the slowest-paced (team) in college basketball. And then the next game you might get Syracuse, who runs an unorthodox 2-3 that you don’t see all the time. So playing in the ACC definitely gets you ready for the tournament. If a team plays a 2-3 or if a team plays a slow pace, we know how to adjust to do that.”

Berry, 23, is the rare NBA prospect who played four years in college. Oddly enough, some NBA teams might view that as a negative.

“I think it is what it is,” Berry said. “The NBA sees potential, and that’s what it’s about. The NBA and college, they start looking at kids as young as 9, 10-year-olds. With the exposure that youth sports have, they see the potential and they’re like, ‘Okay, we’re going to keep our eye on this guy.’ And then when they get to that point of potentially being a draft pick, they just draft them off of that – and the guys who do stay get penalized. 

“Honestly, to me, I’m glad that I stayed four years,” Berry continued. “Because not only have I grown as a young man, but I felt like I had something that I can look back on and say that I’ve enjoyed. The fans have gotten a chance to see me not just only for basketball, but who I am as a person. To me personally, that means more than just seeing me as a basketball player.”

While Berry hopes to have a long NBA career, he also hopes to one day work in administration and improve college athletics.

“There’s a lot that goes on in college sports – and just in sports in general – that needs to be fixed,” he said. “I kind of want to do that to help guys that are coming up behind me to just have a better experience. I’ve had a great experience in college, but it can always get better so I would love to get into something like that.”

Berry added that coaching could be in his future but that there are other things he wants to accomplish first.

“I would love to coach. I’m so fiery to where I feel like it could probably backfire a little bit,” he said, laughing. “I want to look into it. But I just feel like being around the sport is a great thing, but I kind of want to experience life outside of sports.”

In other news, the title of top amateur athlete will be put to a vote this week, as eight elite athletes, including Berry, an Orlando native, were announced as finalists for the 88th AAU James E. Sullivan Award. Other finalists for the award include Maia and Alex Shibutani, Angela Peavy, Annika Albrecht, Kelly Hunter, Kyle Snyder and Erin Finn.

The AAU Sullivan Award has been presented annually since 1930 to the most outstanding amateur athlete in the United States. Past winners include decorated Olympians Jackie Joyner-Kersee (1986), Michael Phelps (2003) and Shawn Johnson (2008). Former UCLA basketball star Bill Walton (1973), University of Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning (1997) and Ezekiel Elliott (2014) have also earned the prestigious honor.

The winner will be announced at the AAU James E. Sullivan Award Ceremony on Tuesday, April 17, at the New York Athletic Club in Manhattan. This year’s event will be hosted by 1981 AAU Sullivan Award winner Carl Lewis.​