A replay of last year’s NCAA tournament win against Kentucky was playing in the North Carolina locker room last week before the players came out to the floor for the Tar Heels’ media day function.
It brought back memories both good and bad for point guard Joel Berry.
“I saw the play where I rolled my ankle and I thought at that moment that I was done,” Berry said. “After that game I wanted to laugh and smile, but I was in so much pain I was crying. It was really bad. Hopefully I don’t have to experience that again.”
Even though UNC is still three weeks away from playing its first game of the new season, Berry’s hope for a pain-free senior season has already gone out the window.
The Most Outstanding Player of last year’s Final Four will miss at least four weeks after suffering a broken bone in his right hand at practice.
Berry averaged 14.7 points and 3.6 assists per game for the Tar Heels last year. Despite playing on two badly sprained ankles, he led UNC to the national championship by scoring a game-high 22 points in the title game against Gonzaga.
He was also his team’s leading scorer on Friday in a closed scrimmage victory against Memphis.
As one of two returning starters, Berry is being counted on for both his scoring and leadership of a young team ranked ninth in the nation in the recently released preseason coaches poll. While he’s sidelined, the point guard duties are likely to be split between sophomore Seventh Woods or freshman Jalek Felton.
While coach Roy Williams said last week that Woods has improved over a rookie season in which he saw only limited action behind Berry and the now-graduated Nate Britt, the Hall of Fame coach is especially high on Felton, the 6-3 nephew of former Tar Heel star Raymond Felton.
“He may be the most gifted player on our team,” Williams said. “He doesn’t understand hard work, doesn’t understand focus, doesn’t understand defense … but I think he’s got a chance to be a really good player and help us. He’s got some skills a lot of other people don’t have.”
Berry’s injury continues a painful preseason pattern for UNC.
In 2015, starting point guard Marcus Paige was sidelined for the season’s first six games after also suffering a broken bone in his hand. Last year at this time, small forward Theo Pinson went down with a broken bone in his foot.
The good news for the Tar Heels is that both players returned from their injuries to help their team advance to the Final Four.
UNC will begin the 2017-18 season on Friday, Nov. 10 with a home game against Northern Iowa.