Berrys ankle has UNCs Williams concerned

The Tar Heels coach said he would hold Berry out of practice Saturday, but there was little doubt among his teammates that he would be ready to play by the time UNC takes on the eighth-seeded Razorbacks

Jeremy Brevard—USA Today Sports
Joel Berry will miss the start of the 2017-18 regular season after breaking a bone in his hand at practice Jeremy Brevard/USA Today Sports)

GREENVILLE, S.C. — Under normal circumstances, Roy Williams would have preferred an earlier starting time for his team’s second round NCAA tournament game against Arkansas on Sunday. This time, though, with star point guard Joel Berry nursing a right ankle injury suffered a day earlier during North Carolina’s South Region opener against Texas Southern, the Hall of Fame coach is just fine with the 6 p.m. tipoff. “The way I looked at it it’s four more hours for Joel to heal,” Williams said Saturday, “So I’m hopeful that we’ll have him.” Berry suffered what was termed as a “rolled right ankle” four minutes into the second half Friday when he landed on the foot of a Texas Southern defender after taking a shot in transition. Although he rolled around on the floor in pain for a few moments and limped back to the locker room, he returned to the lineup later in the game and showed no ill effects from the injury. Williams said he would hold Berry out of practice on Saturday, but there was little doubt among his teammates that he would be ready to play by the time the top-seeded Tar Heels take on the eighth-seeded Razorbacks at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. “He’s a tough guy,” forward Isaiah Hicks said. “He’ll be ready.” For his part, Berry said that his ankle felt “about 75-80 percent.” Since Williams doesn’t possess the healing power the Karate Kid’s Mr. Miyagi in his hands — a reference the coach used both after the Texas Southern game and again at Saturday’s media availability — Berry is resigned to the fact that he’ll be less than his best physically for Sunday’s game. The inference, however, is that he’ll be in the lineup as usual no matter what. “I’m going to prepare like I’m going to play tomorrow,” he said. “I expect to play. I want to play. If he tries to sit me out I’m going to try to convince him to my best that I want to play. “I just want to be ready and have confidence in myself knowing that my ankle is fine, because I would like to play at 100 percent. But more than likely I probably won’t.” Even at less than his best, Berry is a nearly irreplaceable key to UNC’s success. His importance to the Tar Heels was graphically illustrated during last week’s loss to Duke in the semifinals of the ACC tournament. The Tar Heels were in control during the first 25 minutes when he was on the court, opening as much as a 13-point lead on the rival Blue Devils. But things fell apart after he picked up his fourth personal foul. With Berry on the bench for nearly 10 minutes, UNC was outscored 38-14 as Duke went on to win the game and the tournament championship. Berry is second on the team in scoring at 14.5 points per game while leading the team with 122 assists and 45 steals. He’s also the second most prolific 3-point shooter behind ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson with 77 treys. “Joel has been one of our leaders and not just by scoring or shooting 3-point shots, but the way he plays defense,” Williams said. “But we can’t go out and draft anybody, so we’ve got to figure out somebody to play.” If Berry is limited in either his effectiveness or availability Sunday, the first option to replace him will senior Nate Britt. Though not as dynamic a talent as Berry, the senior backup does have experience and he’s coming off one of his best games this season after hitting a pair of 3-pointers and scoring 10 points in the win against Texas Southern. He also scored 10 points in UNC’s second round NCAA win against Arkansas in Jacksonville two years ago. The other point guards on the roster are freshman Seventh Woods and old reliable sixth-year senior Stilman White, who started for the Tar Heels in the 2012 Sweet 16 and Elite Eight because of an injury to then-starter Kendall Marshall. “Those guys have to share the time,” Williams said. “Nate shot it well (Friday), Stilman can shoot the basketball, Seventh as tremendous speed and quickness. If I can put all three of them together and have one player at the end, I wouldn’t be that worried.”