NCB On The Trail: Joel Berry

In high school basketball, the best players usually concentrate on their offense because that’s how their teams win games. But there are several prospects who have the potential to be elite defenders. Let’s examine the five best defenders among the incoming freshmen and one from the Class of 2015.

1. Justise Winslow, Duke
Winslow has a college-ready body and mindset that will help him influence the game with his defensive prowess. His defensive versatility might be the best among the entire freshman class as the 6-foot-6 forward can defend point guards through power forwards. The athletic Winslow can be a factor in full-court pressure or trapping situations as well as in a straight-up man-to-man denial defense locking up, the opposing team's best offensive threat. What makes him a special defender is that he is always thinking about where he should be next on the floor. Winslow will be extremely important for Duke next season.

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North Carolina coach Roy Williams loses James Michael McAdoo to the NBA draft and Leslie McDonald to graduation. Between the two, that’s 24 points per game and a lot of game experience you can't replace, but you can try to help replenish what's returning. UNC's 2014 recruiting class finished the season ranked third in the nation with three players in the top 20 of the ESPN 100 – No. 8 Justin Jackson, No. 10 Theo Pinson and No. 17 Joel Berry. This class will be impactful both individually and as a collective unit. They all bring different elements to next year's team that will make the Tar Heels more talented and help UNC play better as a team. Jackson will score in a very efficient manner to help take the pressure off Marcus Paige, Pinson will be outstanding in the conversion game and from a defensive standpoint if he applies himself and Berry will be a good defender and lead guard who can finish drives and hand out assists. Berry will also lead by his work ethic in practice but in reality, all three of these guys are serious about the game and are high-quality people.

Nike Hoop Summit: What we learned 

April, 14, 2014
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PORTLAND, Ore. -- In the 17th annual Nike Hoop Summit on Saturday, the USA team defeated the World team 84-73 for the first USA win since 2011. The USA squad featured a balanced attack as four players scored in double figures: Justise Winslow (Duke signee) led the USA team with 16 points, Jahlil Okafor (Duke) and Kelly Oubre (Kansas) each scored 14 points and Tyus Jones (Duke) added 13.

Let's take a look at what we learned from this year's Hoop Summit.


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Scouting the country each year I’ll not only see players’ skills, athletic ability and basketball IQ, but I’ll also witness their character along the way. This year’s class might not have any NBA superstars at the moment, but it will have difference-makers for the college game, both in the short term as well as those who will make a difference in time because of their character traits combined with their talent.

As we wrap up the Class of 2014, here are my five final thoughts:

1. The land of the giants

[+] EnlargeJahlil Okafor
AP Photo/The Sun News/Charles SlateDuke center signee Jahlil Okafor finishes the season as the nation's top prospect.
When you look at the top of a class it's so rare to have three post players sitting in the top three spots. Jahlil Okafor, who held the top spot for much of the season, finishes the season as the nation’s top prospect. The center from Chicago is a dominating presence in the paint. A Duke signee, Okafor led his high school team to a 4A state championship and was named the McDonalds Morgan Wooten player of the year.

He is special because he scores down low in the paint with his back to the basket. His combination of size, touch and fluid footwork is too much for one defender and when he doesn’t score, he attracts a double-team, which gives his team an advantage. He operates with patience and poise and when he reads the double-team he will accurately pass out to the open man. Defensively he guards the post and is improving at ball-screen defense as he is a barrier to the rim for his team.

Myles Turner, the nation’s No. 2 prospect, challenged hard for the No. 1 position and shows a big upside. Turner, who is uncommitted, is an elite shot-blocker and scores baskets with a soft touch and range. Cliff Alexander is going to be an absolute difference-maker for Kansas with his ability to rebound, finish and block shots, and he does it in an aggressive manner. Trey Lyles is one of the most skilled post players in this group and his future teammate at Kentucky Karl Towns Jr. has franchise skill-to-size ratio. Thomas Welsh is a fundamentally sound big who will anchor the middle at UCLA.


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McDonald's game matchups to watch 

April, 1, 2014
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CHICAGO -- The prestigious McDonald's All American Game annually brings together the best talent in high school basketball, all on one stage. Here are a few game matchups to watch for this year's star-studded event, which can be seen live on ESPN Wednesday night at 9:30 ET.


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Roundtable: 2014 defensive standouts 

March, 11, 2014
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There are a lot of different ways to win in college basketball, but one of the few staples of virtually all good teams is a commitment to defense.

Ironically, good individual defenders never seem to get the credit they deserve, and that can even be true with the recruiting process. Standouts on offense are not only easier to recognize, they’re also easier to quantify with basic statistics. There’s also a popular sentiment among college coaches that they can teach a player to defend if they have the proper physical tools.

The reality though is that college-ready defenders are perhaps even harder to find than college-ready scorers or playmakers, which should in turn make them that much more valuable. With that in mind, we went back to our team of RecruitingNation experts and asked them to pinpoint the defensive game-changers in this year’s ESPN 100:


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McDonald's game matchups to watch 

January, 29, 2014
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The McDonald's All American Game is annually the nation's most prestigious high school basketball all-star event. The rosters have been announced for the Class of 2014, and this year's game will once again be played at the United Center in Chicago and will air live on ESPN on April 2.

Here's a deeper look at five exciting matchups we'll see in the 2014 contest.

1. The battle of the giants
Jahlil Okafor (West) vs. Myles Turner (East)


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When you speak of Tyus Jones (Duke), Emmanuel Mudiay (SMU) and Joel Berry (North Carolina), you are looking at three of the elite point guard recruits in the country. Each brings his own talent, physical tools and traits to play the position. I don't see a drop off among them at all.

Berry has been a starting point guard since his freshman season, so he knows how to lead. He is tough-minded, makes open shots, defends the ball and makes winning plays. Berry was recently was named to the USA Junior National Select Team that will compete in the Nike Hoop Summit in April.

Jones is the best passer of the trio and manages the end of games extremely well. Mudiay has more of the physical tools such as size (6-5, 190 pounds) and speed and is the best driver of the three. From his penetration, Mudiay also displays excellent passing vision.

Point guard is the most important and most difficult position to make the adjustment to the college game, and as future leaders, they all have a huge learning curve processing the game and performing at the next level. Duke, SMU and North Carolina each signed elite players and people with these three point guard prospects.
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UNC has a few problems this year, but so does just about every other team in college basketball. Remember, it's only January.

The Tar Heels are struggling making outside shots, 3-point shots in particular as they are shooting just 30 percent from behind the arc, as well as free throws (61 percent). None of the three players in the Tar Heels’ 2014 class -- Justin Jackson, Theo Pinson and Joel Berry -- are knockdown shooters, although Berry and Jackson are capable of hitting shots and being consistent shooters beyond the arc over time. All three are fairly good free-throw shooters, so that should help the FT percentage immediately.

The Tar Heels had early season distractions with whether or not P.J Hairston and Leslie McDonald would be eligible this season due to off-the-court issues. They lost Hairston, who was one of the better 3-point shooters in the country, and McDonald has only been average shooting the ball.

UNC’s recruiting class, which is ranked No. 4 in the country, will make a big difference next year because this is a special group. They not only bring talent, but also bring the traits that help you win. They are focused on working and winning and they all put a high value on team play over their own accolades.

Berry will bring a toughness and leadership with the ability to finish at the rim and make open shots. Jackson will put points on the board with his offensive prowess and Pinson will help on the defensive end with his super athletic ability. With everyone likely returning except McDonald, UNC will be very deep, talented and more experienced next season.

Biancardi’s Breakdown: Best for '14 

December, 30, 2013
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Basketball is played right through the new year, so as we look back and plan ahead let’s take a look halfway through this season at which 2014 prospects have performed best in 14 categories.

1. Best in the low post: Jahlil Okafor (Chicago/Whitney Young), Duke signee
If a team needs to score a basket in the lower half of the painted area, Okafor is the one to pass it to. He has secure hands to catch almost any pass and a soft touch with superb footwork. He also has a wide mobile body to seal his man and the patience to throw the ball back out and re-post his 7-foot-3 wing span.


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Jackson leads North Carolina  class

November, 13, 2013
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North Carolina head coach Roy Williams announced the signing of three student-athletes to letters of intent on Wednesday.

Headed to Chapel Hill next year are three ESPN 100 prospects, including the top-ranked small forward Justin Jackson (Tomball, Texas/Homeschool Christian), the No. 4 small forward Theo Pinson (Greensboro, N.C./Wesleyan Christian) and the third-ranked point guard Joel Berry (Apopka, Fla./Lake Highland Prep).

"We are ecstatic that these three young men and their families have decided to join our basketball family," Williams said. "Each of them are talented, come from wonderful families and share a common trait in that they have a tremendous desire for their teams to do well."

The Tar Heels are ranked No. 3 in the ESPN.com RecruitingNation Top 40.

The early signing period arrives Wednesday, marking the first time 2014 prospects can officially sign their national letters of intent, turning previously unbinding verbal commitments into contractually binding scholarship agreements.

Here are 10 storylines to watch for during the eight-day signing period:

Jahlil Okafor
AP Photo/Damen Jackson via Triple Play New MediaJahlil Okafor is hoping to sign during the early signing period. Where will he end up?
1. Package-deal decision day
Word is that Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones are both hoping to sign during the early period, and that means the country’s biggest package deal should have a decision within days. All indications are that the duo still intends to go to school together, but the final destination has become unclear of late. Duke has long since been considered the front-runner, but there’s been growing chatter for Kansas, especially as it pertains to Okafor. Baylor is the dark horse, and while nobody seems to be talking about the Bears anymore, neither prospect has said they’re out of the running just yet.

2. Awaiting word from Alexander
We’re anticipating an announcement from Cliff Alexander, the nation’s third-ranked prospect. The 6-foot-8 big man took the nation by storm during the recent EYBL season and picked up offers from some of college basketball’s most prestigious programs in the process. Four of those remain in the hunt for his services. While Illinois and DePaul have been the perceived favorites, Kansas and Memphis are in the mix as well. Look for Alexander to trim one of those four off his list before his announcement -- and ultimately make his choice from a list of three final schools.

3. Early or late? That is the question
While Okafor, Jones, and Alexander are all expected to make their decisions in time to sign during the early signing period (that is, on or before Nov. 20), there is another group of prospects we still don’t know what to expect from. Justise Winslow just took his last visit, and he could be ready to decide. William Lee is another ESPN 100 prospect who could very well be ready in the coming days. Stanley Johnson was once targeting a January decision, but he now appears to be on the fence, as there has been mounting speculation that he could abandon those original plans in time to sign early.

4. What’s left for the spring?
With 87 players in the current ESPN 100 already committed and at least four more expected to make their decisions in time to sign early, we’re expecting over 90 percent of the current ESPN 100 to officially be off the board within the next 10 days. That’s an almost unprecedented percentage, leaving very little left on the table for the spring’s late signing period. The big prizes for those playing the waiting game are likely to be Myles Turner, Rashad Vaughn and JaQuan Lyle, along with any of the previously mentioned top prospects who ultimately decide against early signatures.

5. Care for a contingency plan
With so few prospects remaining on the board following this period, the major question is what happens to the programs that have gone the distance with top remaining prospects -- only to end up missing out on them. The best examples are Duke and Kansas. The Blue Devils and Jayhawks have gone head-to-head for Okafor and Jones and have passed on other talented guys as a result. Now they’re in a spot where the consequences of losing out on Okafor and Jones could be especially high, with no good contingency plans left on the board unless they’re able to score Turner, who isn’t likely to be excited about being perceived as anybody’s runner-up.

6. Competition for Kentucky
Kentucky currently has the top-ranked recruiting class in the country. If the Wildcats can hold on to that spot, it would be the fifth time in John Calipari’s six years in Lexington he has secured that distinction. The reality, however, is that it may be unlikely. And while Kentucky’s class is undeniably loaded, the 2014 group will be remembered as much for the guys who passed on the Wildcats -- Okafor, Alexander, Jones, Emmanuel Mudiay, Kelly Oubre and James Blackmon Jr. among others -- perhaps signaling a decline in what has been one of the most dominant recruiting periods for any program in recent history.

7. The Big East is back (or never left)
If this season's recruiting class is any indication, the demise of the Big East has been somewhat exaggerated. While conference realignment might have forever changed one of the country’s most historic conferences, it apparently has not done much to hurt the brand. Xavier, Seton Hall and Georgetown have all put together top-10 classes, and Marquette and Providence are not far behind. With five different programs among the top-20 classes in the country and a total of 15 ESPN 100 prospects having already popped for the Big East, the league is recruiting as well as any in the country.

8. What’s the Matta with this class?
Ohio State has the second-ranked recruiting class in the country, a group loaded with four ESPN 100 prospects and another big man who is just on the cusp of that list. Yet nobody seems to be talking about the Buckeyes. With so much attention being paid to the potential classes at Kansas, Duke and Kentucky, Ohio State has flown under the radar. The reality is that coach Thad Matta did his work early and did it well. D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate are all coming in next year, and Payton Dastrup is essentially joining the Class of 2016 after he takes a two-year Mormon mission. The Buckeyes have solidified their future as well as any program in America.

9. Talking about the Tar Heels
Roy Williams and North Carolina are in a similar situation. They have a trio of ESPN 100 prospects on board for next season, all ranked among the top 15 prospects in the country. However, because all three were already committed by last May, the Tar Heels haven’t been at the forefront of any recent recruiting headlines. It’s a mistake to sleep on them, though, as they have one of the country’s best scorers on the wing in Justin Jackson, a swingman with elite athleticism; an alpha-male mentality in Theo Pinson; and one of the most dependable point guards in the country in Joel Berry.

10. Mid-major impact
A quick glance at the class rankings will show that the mid-majors are once again well-represented among this year’s top recruiting classes. San Diego State, VCU and UNLV have all asserted themselves as national recruiters. Steve Fisher’s four-man class is headlined by a trio of ESPN 100 products in Malik Pope, Trey Kell and Zylan Cheatham, while Terry Larrier and Mike Gilmore lead a similar four-man group for Shaka Smart and VCU. Dave Rice and the Rebels have one of the best incoming frontcourt tandems in the country in Goodluck Okonoboh and Dwayne Morgan.

Roundtable: What makes a good PG? 

November, 5, 2013
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Tyus JonesAP Photo/Damen Jackson via Triple Play New MediaTop-rated point guard Tyus Jones embodies all the important traits of an elite floor leader.

The RecruitingNation writers all agree that point guard is the most important position on the floor. But what is the most important part of being a great floor general? And which player in the 2014 class best exhibits those traits? That's where our experts disagree.


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#AskCoachB: Does UNC need a SG?

October, 18, 2013
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The Tar Heels would like to add one more shooter to their second-ranked class if they could. When you look at their incoming class Joel Berry (Apopka, Fla./Lake Highland Prep) is a straight point guard, Justin Jackson (Tomball, Texas/Homeschool Christian Youth Association) is a terrific scorer who excels inside the arc and Theo Pinson (Greensboro, N.C./Wesleyan Christian Academy) can play any of the three perimeter spots on either end of the floor.

If the Tar Heels were to add one more piece to their outstanding class, they would likely profile someone who could make open shots with regularity, especially behind the 3-point line, but also have the ability to score in a variety of other ways. Preferably it would be a guard who could breakdown defenses, make shots and create his own shots.

They are currently involved with Rashad Vaughn (Golden Valley, Minn./Findlay College Prep), who is No. 17 in the ESPN 100 and plans to visit Chapel Hill during the season. When you examine the UNC roster, their two best long-range shooters could be gone after this season. Leslie McDonald, who will be graduating, knocks it down just over 35 percent of the time from behind the arc and P.J. Hairston could leave if he has a good season and he is their best 3-point shooter making 39 percent of his attempts.

Coach Roy Williams and his staff will be very selective in this process. If no one fits the bill, this freshman class has a great work ethic and will become better shooters. If they pass on adding one more to this year's class, then the priority in the 2015 class becomes shooters who can also create their own shot.
On Thursday, we examined the last 10 national champions in order to determine if recruiters put too much emphasis on potential one-and-done prospects.

What we found was that unless those prospects were once-in-a-generation talents like Carmelo Anthony or Anthony Davis, the answer may be yes.

So if college coaches shouldn’t be investing so much time on potential one-and-done prospects, who should they be focused on?

Recent history tells us that NBA-caliber talent should still be put at a premium, but likely the type of talent that needs two, or ideally three years of seasoning in the college ranks first. Experience is especially true in the backcourt where there is a clear correlation between championship caliber teams and experienced ball-handlers/decision makers.

With those findings in mind, we went through the current ESPN 100 and looked to see who could possibly be among the best juniors in the country three years from now:


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