Joel Berry’s injury a case of ‘video game rage’

North Carolina's star point guard broke his right hand last Saturday punching a door after losing a video game to teammate Theo Pinson

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)

CHARLOTTE — When it comes to confrontations between bare fists and solid objects, the solid objects always end up with the better end of the bargain.

North Carolina point guard Joel Berry was the latest to learn that painful lesson last weekend when he suffered a broken right hand out of frustration over — of all things — losing a video game to teammate Theo Pinson.

“He and Theo and one of our managers were playing some video game Saturday night, he loses and he jumps up and punches the door,” said coach Roy Williams, whose team will be without its star senior leader for at least the next four weeks. “You can’t make that stuff up, so it’s got to be true.”

Williams said he wasn’t aware of the the details surrounding Berry’s injury, including which video game he was playing, other than to say that “I don’t think it’s necessarily a reason to punch a door because you lose a video game.

Pinson, appearing in the interview room a few hours before Williams, offered even less insight into the incident.

“Have you talked to coach?” was the only thing he would say.

Williams actually seemed to have a good humor about the entire incident when asked about it Wednesday at the ACC’s Operation Basketball media event.

That’s probably because he’s had a couple of days since it happened to cool off and come to grips with the situation. He’s also had plenty of experience dealing with injuries to key players just before the start of a season, though none have been as colorful or avoidable as this one.

The Tar Heels started last season without Pinson, who broke his foot during preseason practice, and the previous year without leading scorer Marcus Paige, who broke his hand in a more traditional on-the-court manner.

In each case, the players returned to action and made significant contributions to NCAA tournament runs that ended in the national championship game.

So all things considered, Williams said things could be worse.

“We’ve had our share of those things, but other teams have, too,” the coach said. “Nobody’s had it more than Larry Fedora, with what we’re going through with our football team now.”

Fedora’s football team has lost 16 players for the season because of injury and is struggling at 1-7 on the season. Williams’ basketball squad doesn’t figure to experience as dramatic a dropoff — if any at all — while Berry is out, in part because of the lesson he learned back in 2012.

That was the year he was forced to play seldom-used freshman Stilman White in an NCAA regional final because point guards Kendall Marshall and Dexter Strickland were both sidelined with injuries.

“You need to have more than one player in each spot,” Williams said. “You remember in 2012 when we had our backup point Dexter Strickland go down with an ACL. Then when Kendall got hurt in the second round of the NCAA, there went some big-time dreams and hopes. So I said I would never get caught again without three point guards.”

Williams is more prepared to deal with the temporary situation this time around. The question is whether his two young backup point guards — sophomore Seventh Woods and freshman Jalek Felton — are prepared enough to get the job done.

If history is any indication, both players will end up benefitting from the extra playing time they might not otherwise be getting if Berry was healthy and playing his usual 30-34 minutes per game over the opening weeks of the season.

Pinson related the current situation to his own experience in 2015, saying it was potentially a “blessing in disguise.”

“When Marcus went down, I had to step up and get those minutes,” the senior wing said. “It gave me confidence. When we were winning close games and I was making plays at the end of the games, I had the confidence to make those plays. It helped me and it helped coach trust me in games of that magnitude.”

If all else fails, Williams could potentially turn to Pinson to play the point until Berry is ready to return.

“He’s the best playmaker on our team, so why not give him a chance back there and see what he can do?” Williams said. “We’ve already done that a couple of times in his career. Nobody has stepped up and said ‘this is my spot,’ so with Jalek, Seventh and possibly Theo, we’ll try to figure out who’s best.”