UNC adjusts Final Four plans to help Berry heal

The Tar Heels left for Phoenix a day early to help give point guard Joel Berrys two injured ankles a little extra time to heal before Saturdays national semifinal game against Oregon

Jeremy Brevard—USA Today Sports
Joel Berry will miss the start of the 2017-18 regular season after suffering a broken bone in his right hand (Jeremy Brevard/USA Today Sports)

The North Carolina basketball team was so anxious to get to the Final Four to start taking care of its unfinished business from a year ago that it left for Phoenix a day earlier than usual.Okay, so that’s not entirely accurate.Coach Roy Williams actually did change his team’s travel schedule to leave on Tuesday instead of Wednesday. The reason he did it, however, was to help the Tar Heels better adjust to the two time zone difference and give point guard Joel Berry’s two injured ankles a little extra time to heal before Saturday’s national semifinal game against Oregon at University of Phoenix Stadium.”We’re going out there Tuesday night first of all, because I want Joel to have another day of rest, period,” Williams said before heading to the airport. “Secondly, we went out there on Wednesday night (last year) and Thursday night is a bear. There’s so many things — the press, running here, running there — that our guys were worn out. We didn’t have a very good practice that Friday, so that’s another reason we’re going out there a day early.”Berry’s health has been a concern since the NCAA tournament began in Greenville, S.C. two weeks ago when he sprained his right ankle after landing on an opponent’s foot during UNC’s opening round win against Texas Southern.The Tar Heels’ catalyst tweaked the same ankle at practice before Sunday’s South Region championship game against Kentucky in Memphis. Then five minutes into that game, he sprained his left ankle while driving into the lane and dishing off to teammate Kennedy Meeks for a dunk.Berry has been undergoing treatment on both ankles since the team returned home on Monday. According to Williams, his status for Saturday’s game is still up in the air.”If we had to play a game today, I don’t think he’d play,” the UNC coach said. “But the good news is we don’t have to play today.”Most people, their feet swell a little bit getting on the plane, so it will probably do that and he probably won’t feel any better when he gets there. I don’t have him doing one thing. We’re going to practice and I won’t have him do one thing.”Berry 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.As careful as Williams is being with him in the days leading up to the Final Four, his teammates have no doubt he’ll be ready to play once game time rolls around.”We know at the end of the day that Joel is a competitor,” ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson said. “He’s going to do whatever he needs to do to try to get back. He’s been doing a bunch of stuff with (the training staff) to try to get better and I think he’s taken pretty good steps forward.”Should Berry be unable to play or limited in his contribution against Oregon, freshman Seventh Woods and sixth-year senior Stilman White would be forced into service. That would be a similar situation to the one in White’s freshman season of 2012, in which he started UNC’s games in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight after an injury to starting point guard Kendall Marshall.Despite the potential similarities, Williams said he doesn’t feel a sense of deja vu over the current situation.”No. You can’t worry about all of that junk,” Williams said. “I saw a motorcycle cop crash in the street in front of us the other day and there wasn’t anybody involved. He just hit a railroad track. He rides that bike for a living and it’s laying in the middle of the street, so no. Until you brought it up, I hadn’t thought about Kendall.”