Floor General Joel Berry II Eager To Represent His Country Once Again
Feb. 7, 2014 • Colorado Springs, Colo.
When USA Basketball reached out to Joel Berry II (Lake Highland Prep School/Apopka, Fla.) about playing in the 2014 Nike Hoop Summit on April 12, the six-foot-one guard said he did not hesitate to accept the invitation to join the 2014 USA Junior National Select Team.
“I was pretty excited, especially when I found out the other guys that were on the team; those were most of the guys that I went to Lithuania with and won the gold medal,” Berry said. “It’s just a great honor to be able to go and represent not only yourself and your family but also the USA.”
Berry will return to USA Basketball having helped the USA to an 8-0 record and gold medal in the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship, as well as participating in several USA training camps as a member of the 2011-12 USA Basketball Men’s Developmental National Team.
“Playing for USA Basketball has meant a lot to me,” Berry said. “You get excited playing for your AAU team and your high school team, but there is nothing like going out and being able to represent your country. I know it’s not like the army, but it’s still going out and representing your country through basketball, showing that the country that you come from is very talented. It’s a great honor to be able to have that USA across my chest.”
Unlike the FIBA U17 World Championship, however, where U.S. teams remain unbeaten, the annual Nike Hoop Summit has seen the USA fall to the World Select Team, which is comprised of the world’s best players 19-years-old or younger, the past two years.
That is no surprise to Berry, who watched his former AAU teammates lose in the 2012 and 2013 Nike Hoop Summits to talented international stars such as Anthony Bennett in 2012, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, and Andrew Wiggins in 2013, who currently is leading the University of Kansas in scoring with 15.9 points per game (as of Feb. 5).
It is not just the experience of his teammates that Berry is relying on to help the USA get in a win in 2014 – the U.S. roster includes six players who have won gold medals in FIBA and/or FIBA Americas 5-on-5 competitions -- but also the coaching staff. The USA will be led by Mike Jones (DeMatha Catholic H.S., Md.), who was head coach of the 2013 USA Junior National Select Team and an assistant coach for the 2012 USA Junior National Select Team and the 2012 USA U17 World Championship Team with which Berry won a gold medal.
“Our head coach, Mike Jones, was with us as an assistant coach with the 17-and-under team,” Berry said. “He was a great coach. They challenged me to be a more vocal leader, and that’s why I think I’m more of a leader now. When I made the team, they told me one thing that I have to do is be more vocal. So, I know what he will expect. I’m just going to go in there and do the things that I did that helped us win the U17 gold medal.”
Berry’s focus on being more than a scorer is evident in his senior season at Lake Highland Prep School in Florida. Heading into the district playoffs, Berry was averaging not just 25.2 points, but also 7.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.6 steals per game.
“Over the years I could score the ball, but I challenged myself, and it comes back to USA Basketball, I challenged myself to be able to distribute the ball,” Berry said. “I am the scorer on my team, but if there is somebody open that I can get the ball to, and they knock down the shot and I see a smile on their face, that makes me proud because that means I did something good to be able to get that person a shot. Even though I score a lot, I still look to impact the game in different ways, with assists or steals or rebounds. I just like to do whatever it takes to be able to put our team in a winning situation.”
Berry and his team currently are heading into the district playoffs in Florida and looking to repeat as class 4A state champions.
“We faced a lot of adversity this season,” Berry admitted. “Some of our great players last year were seniors, and they went off to college. So, we got one guy from another school, and he is a senior in his first year with the team, and two guys who had come off the bench start for us now. It was kind of like half of the season we were just trying to find out our identity and what each individual could do. Once we found that out, we’ve been pretty successful at the end of the season. I’ve been out the last few game with an ankle injury, so it was great to be able to see some of the guys step up and take on new roles. I can just tell that we have a very talented team, so hopefully we can make that state run again.
“My USA Basketball experiences have really stayed with me,” Berry continued. “Every time I think about training and when I go into practices for my high school team, I always think about USA, because that’s where my vocal leadership started. That’s why I’m so honored to be able to go back and play for the USA team again, because I know that once I get there, it will be another challenge that I can learn form and take with me on to college.”
Regardless of how his senior campaign ends, Berry will attend and play basketball at the University of North Carolina in the fall.
“It was always my dream school,” Berry said. “I grew up watching North Carolina with Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson. I think the program fits my style of play. I enjoy being with the guys on the team. I’ve been up there three times now. It feels like home, and when I first went there for my official visit, I just had that good feeling that was the right place for me. I know the basketball side of it is going to be great, but I think that coach Williams can continue the fatherhood role that my dad already has established. I’m going to be up there most of the year, so coach Williams will be like my second father. I think he can step in and push me and push me towards my dreams like my dad did.”
Another influence in Berry’s life, though much less personal, is NBA superstar and two-time Olympic gold medalist LeBron James.
“I like LeBron James not because he is the best player in the world, I think,” Berry said, “But when you look at his stats, he scores a lot, but he gives you something in each category. That says a lot. Some of these guys in the NBA, they give you one category that they excel at, and that’s about it. If you go down the line looking at LeBron’s stats, he is rebounding, scoring, stealing the ball and doing little things that don’t even show up on the stat sheet. That’s why I look at him as a role model, because I just want to play like him and do whatever it takes to help my team win.”
Come April 12, basketball fans in Portland and throughout the nation will get to see whether Berry and his U.S. teammates are successful in the 2014 Nike Hoop Summit, but undoubtedly it will not be the last time they get to watch Berry perform.
Get your tickets to the 2014 Nike Hoop Summit now and enjoy future NCAA and NBA stars for just $5 in advance at www.rosequarter.com/nikehoopsummit.