Bad ankles and all, UNCs Berry will play in national semifinal game

Point guard Joel Berry went through a full practice on his two sprained ankles Thursday and declared himself to be at about 85 percent capacity for the Tar Heels date with Oregon on Saturday

Bob Donnan—USA Today Sports
UNC guard Joel Berry averaged 14.7 points and 3.6 assists per game for UNC's national championship team last year (Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports)

PHOENIX — Joel Berry went through a full practice on his two sprained ankles Thursday and declared himself physically ready to play in Saturday’s national semifinal game against Oregon at University of Phoenix Stadium. “I think I’ll be pretty effective, just get lost in the game,” Berry said Thursday, adding that he’s at about 85 percent 24 hours until game time. “The only thing that scares me is reinjuring it. I don’t want to do that, but other than that I feel good about being effective on the court.” Berry sprained his right ankle in UNC’s NCAA tournament opener against Texas Southern two weeks ago, then tweaked it again during practice before last Sunday’s South Region championship win against Kentucky. He made it a matched set by spraining his left ankle while driving to the basket five minutes into that game. Although he was held out of practice until the team arrived in Phoenix, no one associated with the team — even coach Roy Williams, despite his public comments — had any serious doubt he’d be ready to play once game time rolled around. “If he can’t play there’s something more wrong,” teammate Justin Jackson said. “I don’t think there was ever a thought in our mind that he wasn’t going to play, just the type of competitor he is. But it does give us more confidence knowing he’ll be out there.” The real question is how much confidence Berry will have in his injured ankles when he gets out on the court and starts to run, shoot and defend. No matter how hard he insists he’ll be fine, there’s no way of knowing the answer until the game actually begins, He said his biggest concern is penetrating to the rim. “To be able to get that explosiveness, it’s hard to tell just because the Adrenaline gets pumping,” Berry said. “I will be taking some medicine to help me out, so you never know what will happen. But I feel like that is the only area that scares me a little because when you go to the hole you have people’s feet around and guys coming at you. That’s how I injured it last week.” Berry said that the left ankle is bothering him more than the right one, since it’s the most recent of the two injuries. The 6-foot junior is the Tar Heels’ second-leading scorer at 14.6 points per game while shooting 39.2 percent of his 3-point attempts. He also leads the team in assists at 3.8 per game and is a tenacious defender when healthy. Should Berry be limited in his contribution against Oregon, senior Nate Britt would be first in line to replace him with fellow veteran Stilman White the next man up after that. Britt was a starter as a freshman and has extensive experience over his four-year career while White was famously forced into service during the 2012 Sweet 16 and Elite Eight because of an injury to starting point guard Kendall Marshall. Although he hopes they’re not needed in a major role, Williams said his team is blessed to have two such seasoned players on which to fall back just in case. “I was scared to death in 2012 after Kendall got hurt because we really didn’t have anybody that had been on a big stage,” Williams said. “And Stilman did a magnificent job considering all the factors. “But I like it better when you have someone who has been there and been asked to do it all year long, and the rest of the guys are more comfortable with him. So hopefully that translates to better play on the court.” In order to ensure that Berry plays his best, he’ll continue to undergo treatment on his sore ankles right up until game time. It’s a process he knows is necessary, even though he’d prefer to be doing just about anything else on the eve of the season’s biggest game. “Sometimes I just want to go back to laying in my bed, but I keep telling myself there are just four more days left in the season so I have to give it my all and do whatever it takes to get my body right,” Berry said. “I have to give it my all and do whatever it takes to get my body right.”