UNC recruits Jackson, Berry show flashes in Holiday tourney

CorrespondentDecember 27, 2013 

— Two-thirds of North Carolina’s 2014 recruiting class is on display at the HighSchoolOT.com Holiday Invitational.

And if their performances Thursday on opening night at Broughton were any indication of their ability, Tar Heels fans are going to be very happy.

Point guard Joel Berry was a stat-sheet stuffer for Lake Highland Prep of Orlando, Fla., in its 73-45 rout of Clayton, finishing with 14 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.

And 6-foot-8 Justin Jackson had a dominant outing for the Homeschool Christian Youth Association of Houston, Texas, in a 73-55 romp over Word of God. Jackson, the No. 10 recruit in the senior class, poured in 36 points with 14 rebounds, four assists and two blocks.

The local coaches were impressed by the future Tar Heels after taking their lumps.

“Obviously we couldn’t keep (Berry) out of the lane,” Clayton coach Denny Medlin said. “He did a great job passing the ball. He skipped it over the zone a couple of times, and what helps him out a lot is that everybody’s knocking down ‘3s’ around him. He just picked us apart defensively.”

Word of God’s Quentin Jackson Sr. was equally effusive in his assessment of the HYCA big man.

“A kid that versatile and with his size and attitude – you can’t stop great players like that,” Jackson said. “(Compared to former Word of God stars) he has the handle similar to Josh Newkirk (now at Pittsburgh), the scoring mentality of a T.J. Warren (N.C. State) and the body of a Shane Whitfield (Lehigh). We don’t have anything like that right now.”

Besides their basketball skills, the duo has other things in common, including humility.

“I could talk about Joel over and over and over again,” Lake Highland coach Jason Vallery said. “What I love about him the most is that he doesn’t take advantage of his ability. He lets the rest of the team play. On a nightly basis, if we asked him to score 35 points a game he would. ... We’ve got a talented point guard who can push the ball up the floor, and he sees it better than anyone I’ve ever coached. ... He’s got vision you can’t coach.”

HYCA coach Mike Decker, who carries just eight players on the Warriors 18-and-under team that is in Raleigh this weekend, has built a squad of players, including his own son J.J., that can complement the mobile Jackson.

“It’s always nice to have Justin,” Decker said with a smile. “... Justin is consistent, and it’s up to our role players how well we do and what the margin is.”

Jackson and Berry, ranked 25th nationally by Rivals.com, said they probably wouldn’t see much of each other this weekend, this being a “business trip” and all. But both teams were scheduled to tour UNC on Friday.

“I bonded with (Justin) and Theo (Pinson, a 6-5 small forward from High Point Wesleyan) over the summer,” Berry said. “We bonded and we’re looking forward to next year.”

Added Jackson, “I talk to Joel and Theo more than the players who are already there. Joel is a great player. He can score. He can do pretty much everything out there.”

Both players said that as long-time Tar Heels fans, their decision to head for Chapel Hill was easy.

“I think Carolina fits my game,” said Berry, who said he had his first offer from Jacksonville before he got to high school. “Coach (Roy) Williams is a great coach both on and off the court and I feel he can continue to build me as a young man. It’s my style of play and I’ve been a Tar Heel fan for the longest.

“I was a big fan of Ty Lawson, ‘Baby’ (Sean) May and all the guys. They just compete. I wanted to be a part of the fraternity with guys like Michael Jordan.”

Jackson also grew up in a generation that knew Jordan only as a Chicago Bulls superstar.

“I know everyone says Michael Jordan,” said Jackson, who has been homeschooled since he was 12. “I’ll say Wayne Ellington was a big role model for me. I have a really good relationship with Coach Williams. (Assistant) coach (Steve) Robinson was the main one who recruited me. And when I took my official visit, it just felt right.”

Both youngsters say they figure there’s plenty of work to be done before they take the court as Tar Heels.

“My job as a point guard is to not only score but to get my teammates involved,” Berry said. “I’m working on my leadership. As a point guard, when things aren’t going your way you have to have that ‘poker face’ and be able to settle down.

Jackson said he’s hoping to add 15 pounds to his 200-pound frame by fall and added he knows he faces a big transition moving from high school center-forward to a wing at UNC.

“I definitely want to get stronger and play through contact more,” he said. “And I’m working on every aspect of my game – weights, pushups, sit-ups, and all that type of stuff. I don’t like it, but it’s what I have to do.

“Playing the ‘two’ and ‘three’ you’re going to face some guards who are small and some who are big. I’m going to have to stay in the stance and play defense against the little quick guards. And I’ll have to bump guys who are bigger than me. But playing inside (in high school) has made me get stronger. I can see the offense and help with the leadership.”

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