Berrys status still uncertain for UNCs showdown with Kentucky

Teammate Justin Jackson thinks the odds are in the Tar Heels favor that their injured point guard will be on the court for Saturdays key nonconference showdown with the Wildcats

Madeline Gray—North State Journal
North Carolina guard Joel Berry II (2) sits on the bench because of a sprained ankle during the game against Davidson at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill on Wednesday

CHAPEL HILL — If the past two games against Davidson and Tennessee proved anything, it’s that the North Carolina basketball team is going to need Joel Berry for its upcoming game against Kentucky. Whether he does or not will depend on how his sprained left ankle responds during and after practice between now and Saturday. Coach Roy Williams said Thursday that he’s “not optimistic at all” about Berry’s imminent return before adding that he’s also “not pessimistic,” since his team hasn’t practiced for the past three days while taking final exams. If junior forward Justin Jackson was a betting man, which would somewhat appropriate since Saturday’s game will be played in Las Vegas, the odds are in the Tar Heels’ favor that Berry will be on the court for the key nonconference showdown with the Wildcats. “I would expect him (to play) just because of the type of competitor he is,” Jackson said. “He’s had quite a bit of time off to get that ankle right. He seems like he’s pretty upbeat about playing. We’ll see I guess in practice and what coach says.” Berry leads the team in assists and ranks second in both scoring and steals while serving as UNC’s undisputed on-court leader. His importance to the Tar Heels was emphasized by the balky performances of his teammates since he suffered his injury early in a win against Radford on Dec. 4. “He’s our second-leading scorer. Most of the time he’s up there No. 1,” Jackson said. “That’s a big chunk taken out of our offense. Defensively, as far as picking up the point guard early, Joel is very good as that. So it’s kind of a two-headed monster we’re missing out there.” The encouraging news is that he was no longer wearing a walking boot during last Sunday’s closer-than-expected victory against Tennessee. He has also done some running and shooting on his own, but according to Williams, the junior point guard was still listed as “limited” on his practice plan for Thursday’s scheduled workout. “I had a conversation with him the Saturday before the (Tennessee) game and he said it was feeling better,’ Williams said. “I talked to him before running and shooting (on Monday), but I haven’t seen him. I’ve been in eight states (recruiting) in the last seven days.” While Williams has yet to see Berry on the court since his injury, he has seen enough from replacements Nate Britt and Seventh woods while he’s been sidelined to know that it needs its star to be successful. “I hoped Nate and Seventh would play well and get even more confidence,” Williams said. “I think neither of them would tell you they’re real excited about the way they played. “Joel was averaging 16-17 (points) and shooting 45 percent, and we haven’t done that. That’s what we’ve missed, plus defensively — even though I’ll say this, Nate was big in the Tennessee game with his (five) steals. I’m hopeful Joel will pick up at the level where he was. His play was at a higher level than we’ve had the last two games.”