The answer to this question will go a long way toward determining how well North Carolina is prepared to defend its national championship next season: Will Joel Berry return for his senior season, or will he enter the NBA draft?
Berry, the junior point guard, was recently named the permanent captain of UNC’s sixth NCAA championship team. He’s the first non-senior at UNC to earn that distinction on a national championship team. And now the Tar Heels wait. Everyone waits.
The deadline for college freshmen, sophomores and juniors to declare for the NBA draft is Sunday. And so Berry remains on the clock. So does Tony Bradley, the freshman forward who undoubtedly has tantalized some professional scouts with his polish in the low post.
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Bradley told the Associated Press after the Tar Heels’ national championship victory that he planned to at least go through the NBA’s pre-draft process, in which college players can declare for the draft, go through the NBA draft combine, and return to school if they don’t hire an agent.
Berry’s plans, meanwhile, are less certain. Something he said back in early March, though, might be worth remembering. The Tar Heels then were getting ready to play against Duke on senior night. It would be the final home game for UNC’s seniors, including Stilman White.
And so Berry was asked about White, the 24-year-old reserve guard whose freshman season began way back in 2011. After that season, White left school to go on a Mormon mission only to return to UNC in 2014, and some of his teammates found it a bit crazy that White was still around after all this time.
“It’s pretty cool,” Berry said then. “Even though I know he would probably like to be somewhere else.”
Berry laughed, shook his head and said, “I mean, I don’t know. Honestly, I would like to be somewhere else – say, if I were Stilman.”
Berry said he’d rather be “making some money instead of going to class still, coming out here, putting your body on the line when it’s just, like ...” And his thought trailed off, but it’s not too difficult to figure out where Berry was headed was with it.
Now, perhaps this is just nothing – just Berry thinking about a teammate who’d been around the program, in one way or another, for a long time. But maybe it provided some insight into Berry’s thought process about his own future.
Berry hasn’t been in college nearly as long, only three years. Even so, he’s accomplished more than most: ACC tournament MVP; Final Four Most Outstanding Player; a national championship; a place, forever, in UNC basketball lore after he helped lead the Tar Heels to the championship on two bad ankles.
So Berry’s line from early March sticks out. How if he’d rather be “making some money” than staying in school forever. A throwaway line about a teammate who remained in school at an unusually old age? Maybe. But maybe an honest assessment of how he’s approaching thoughts of his future.