Joel Berry II will miss the opening of the Carolina men’s basketball season due to a broken bone in his right hand, UNC Athletic Communications announced today. The injury occurred very recently, as Berry was practicing last week and led the Tar Heels in scoring in the ‘secret scrimmage’ against Memphis.
So . . . here we are. While this injury to the reigning Final Four Most Outstanding Player would bedevastating in late February or March, the truth is today’s date is October 23. If Berry is out for just those four weeks, he misses the scrimmage against Barton on Friday, home games against Northern Iowa and Bucknell and the trip to face Jerod Haase’s Stanford Cardinal on November 20. He’d return just in time for the PK80 Tournament, when Carolina plays three games in four days against Portland; Arkansas or Oklahoma; and UConn, DePaul, Michigan State or Oregon.
If he’s out, say, six weeks, Berry misses that tournament plus the ACC-Big Ten Challenge against Michigan, the trip to Davidson and a home game against Tulane, returning ahead of a December 6 home date with Western Carolina.
If he has surgery as soon as possible (and it’s likely he will), that four-week estimate is probaby pretty safe. Six weeks is being ultra-conservative. So Berry misses anywhere from three to nine games, all in November or December, and he returns well ahead of ACC play.
So if this is the hand Carolina is dealt (apologies, but pun absolutely intended), Roy Williams must play it. Fortunately, the Tar Heels are deep on the perimeter, with Seventh Woods and Jalek Felton both bringing bonafides at the point guard position.
A sophomore, Woods averaged eight minutes per game a year ago as the Tar Heels’ third point guard. His teammates have raved about his off-season growth, however, and Woods was twice Mr. Basketball in South Carolina, averaging 19 points and five assists as a senior. He seemed bit too overeager as a freshman playmaker at times, but he also showed flashes of great potential. And Woods did a phenomenal job leading the Blue team opposite Berry in last week’s media day practice.
Felton, meanwhile, was considered the best combo guard in the high school class of 2017. At 6’3 and 190 pounds, he’s got the size to work against ACC guards and the name (he’s Raymond’s nephew) to walk into the league with a reputation. He’s a scorer, too; it’s been a while since Carolina has had a point guard whose first option was drive and score, second option was shoot and score, and third option was to pass (that aggressive nature will be channeled a bit under Williams). Felton needs to work on his shot, but he’ll be playing with shooters such as Kenny Williams and Cam Johnson.
Finally, Carolina has Theo Pinson. He too can handle the point guard duties in stretches, although he likely won’t need to, with Woods and Felton available.
There are no two ways about it - losing Berry hurts, but not nearly as much as it could have. Seventh Woods and Jalek Felton were going to have to grow up in 2017-18 anyway, and this only accelerates that process. There will be some 30 minutes available at point guard for the Tar Heels, and someone will have to play them. Seventh, Jalek . . . it’s your time to shine.
Photos by Alex Kormann