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The Daily Tar Heel

ANALYSIS: Joel Berry will have free rein after return to UNC men's basketball

North Carolina wing Theo Pinson (1), forward Kennedy Meeks (3) and guard Joel Berry defend Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss (5) in the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship Monday night in Phoenix.
North Carolina wing Theo Pinson (1), forward Kennedy Meeks (3) and guard Joel Berry defend Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss (5) in the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship Monday night in Phoenix.

On Tuesday evening, Joel Berry announced he would return to the North Carolina men’s basketball team for his senior season.

“After speaking to my family I have decided to withdraw from the 2017 Draft and will return to Carolina next season,” Berry said in a statement. “I know I can continue to improve my game and be better prepared for the NBA after another year playing against the best college competition in the country. There’s no reason to rush leaving school. I love being a Tar Heel and love playing for Carolina and (head) coach (Roy) Williams.”

The announcement comes just a day after Berry, Tony Bradley and Theo Pinson all announced they would enter the NBA Draft process without signing an agent, opening the door for a return next season. It’s a little bit odd that Berry would declare on Monday and withdraw on Tuesday — but that’s minutia at this point.

Berry’s return means, point blank, that North Carolina will be a competitive basketball team next season. That floor — in doubt if Berry jumped for the NBA — is now certain. The ceiling, of course, is still the roof.

The rising senior point guard is a foundational piece Williams will have no problem building an offense around. His shooting will space the floor, and his leadership will keep the team on the right track. He’ll also carry the team in crunch time as he has so many times the past two seasons.

Berry’s shot selection pushed the limits at times this past season. In the NCAA Tournament, he didn’t trust his teammates much on fast breaks and preferred to just plow forward come hell or high water. Expect more of that, as well as more three-pointers from farther and farther behind the arc. But these are little problems Williams will love to have.

Next season, the 6-foot scoring guard will have every right to take whatever shot he wants. After all, this will be Berry’s team. He pulled part-time shifts on alpha-dog duties with Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks last season, and he learned how to play the part from Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson two seasons ago. All those skills will be put to use in the 2017-18 season.

One-four pick and rolls with Berry and folk hero Luke Maye, with Kenny Williams spaced out on the perimeter, already have a lot of potential. Start adding in auxiliary pieces like Pinson and Bradley, and UNC will have a big-time team next year.

Berry will be an early favorite for every award and preseason team at the conference and national levels. Arguably the best player on the national championship team is returning, so no expectation is unwarranted or too much — including ACC Player of the Year, an award Jackson won last season.

Berry’s also playing with house money at this point. His jersey is already up in the rafters, and he’s already a national champion. He will be freed up to focus on improving the little things, like upping that assist rate (19.7 percent last year, 432nd in the country per and playing the consistent, bulldog-like defense he has occasionally shown during postseason play.

Renew your season tickets. Start lining up in the phase one line now. The Joel Berry show will be worth watching.


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