“Point guards should only be judged by whether you win or lose. The rest of that stuff doesn’t matter.’’
In the humid central Florida city of Apopka, a 6’1″ point guard named Joel Berry II is working on perfecting his craft. For the past few months, he’s worked with trainer Cornell Rivers, who worked with the Celtics’ Marquis Daniels, on taking his shooting to another level. Joel makes 6,000 shots per weekend. These sessions can take between four and eight hours.
This March, the sophomore point guard led his young Lake Highland Prep squad to their first state championship game. Joel scored twenty-two points in the opening half of the 4A title game against Pine Crest, but the Lake Highland Highlanders ultimately lost that game after Berry, finishing with twenty-six points, fouled out of the game with 3:07 left in the game, missing their remaining six shots of the game. After finishing with a 28-4 record and returning all of their starters, they will be early favorites to win their first state title next season and are scheduled to play in the challenging City of Palms Tournament in Ft. Myers, FL next December.
For his efforts, the always gracious Berry II became the first sophomore in Florida’s history to win the Mr. Basketball Award. Joel also was named Gatorade’s Player of the Year in Florida. Gatorade cited his championship game run, his 3.3 GPA, and his volunteer work as the reasons for the sophomore’s distinction. For the season, Joel averaged over 23 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 assists per game.
This AAU season, Berry has formed a dynamic 1-2 punch with Dakari Johnson, a 6’10″ sophomore from Brooklyn who plays at Montverde Academy for Coach Kevin Boyle. Despite the youth, the Florida based-team, Each One Teach One, has gone 8-1 through the Minneapolis and Hampton legs of the Nike EYBL. Each One Teach One is the AAU program that Duke freshman and soon-to-be NBA guard, Austin Rivers, played for.
One of his E1T1 coaches is Joel Berry, Sr. Mr. Berry was a standout multi-sport athlete in his own regard. He was an Adidas All-American football player in 1987 as well as an All-Metro Orlando performer in both track and basketball. Mr. Berry opted to pursue football at the University of Central Florida, but, unfortunately, injured his knee as a sophomore and never played football again. He’s been able to stay in good shape via a mix of strength training and the martial arts. After going back to school, Mr. Berry is scheduled to earn a Master’s degree this month from the University of Central Florida. Joel’s sister, Kourtnie, just helped lead Rollins College of Winter Park, FL to a Division II Final Four, the furthest in program history.
Last year, playing two age groups up, Joel Berry II felt he needed to score more in order for his E1T1 team to have any chance at victory. Coaches Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Calhoun, and Billy Donovan watched the then rising sophomore play, at times, over the course of the limited July period, but he’s anxious to show the improvements in his overall game, particularly his on-the-ball defense, his improved physique and strength, which enables him to take the physicality that accompanies being a penetrating point guard, and ability to facilitate an offense.
After a recent game, Joel, who, from a personality standpoint, has managed to have the near perfect blend of being a tiger on the court and a good-natured gentleman off of it, spoke with me again after an EYBL game.
What are some things that you’ve improved on most since last year?
I’ve worked on my leadership a lot. I’m a real quiet person.
So am I.
Yeah, so I just tried to go out there and play basketball, but people had been telling me that I have to be more vocal out on the court. So, I’ve tried to work on that a lot. It’s one thing that I definitely feel like I’ve improved on. I’ve been going to a lot of leadership programs and that’s helped a lot.
That’s great. What are you hoping to show coaches this year?
I just want to show them that I can be a leader and run a team. Every time, I can’t wait to just go out there and play and help us win.
Well, I think you’ve got a much better team to work with than last year’s team. No offense to last year’s team, but you guys are older and made a great offseason acquisition by picking up the big fella, Dakari (Johnson).
Yes, sir, we’ve got a lot of size this year and it’s important that I get them the ball in spots where they can be successful with it. We’ve got a lot of players this year that can score and so it’ll take a lot of pressure off of me to score. I can just lead my team and distribute the ball. Last year, you know I needed to score a lot for us to try to win. This year, it’s been great because it feels like more we’re more of a team out there.
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