Joel Berry was hashing through what makes North Carolina so successful in the NCAA tournament.
The Tar Heels have a 13-2 record in the tournament during Berry’s career (the best by any team in that span) with three Sweet 16 trips, two to the Final Four and one national title.
In a longer explanation, the senior point guard just kind of offhandedly mentioned this:
“Every time we go through a season, it feels like people are always against us,” Berry said.
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Wait, against “us?” The University of North Carolina? The Tar Heels? The most famous brand in college basketball? The regular championship pick of former President Barack Obama and millions of other amateur bracketologists?
Certain teams have had so much historical success — Carolina, the Patriots, the Yankees, Alabama football — they are exempt from playing the “Nobody believes in us” card. Yet there was Berry doing so, three days before UNC, the No. 2 seed in the West, opens up the NCAA tournament against Lipscomb, the No. 15 seed, on Friday in Charlotte.
Appropriately, Berry was on the Smith Center floor when he made these comments, symbolically near Michael Jordan’s retired No. 23 jersey. Nobody concocted a slight (where there was none) like Jordan. Also appropriately, UNC will play in the arena of the NBA team Jordan owns.
Was this just an homage to His Airness? Was Berry just channeling his inner Jordan?
“Part of that is me but I honestly do feel like each and every season that we go into, there’s always people against us,” Berry said.
Turns out Berry’s definition of “people” is specific to ESPN and their college basketball analysts.
“We do one wrong thing and they’re trying to blow it up,” Berry said of sports cable network. “Oh, Carolina, if they don’t get their defense right, they’re not going to be able to make it. If they’re not shooting the ball well, they’re not going to be able to do this and this and that.
“They’re always trying to find the littlest thing for us and that bothers me a lot. But at the same time, I notice it, and I just use it as motivation.”
Berry said the latest example came during the ACC tournament. ESPN analyst, and former Duke star, Jay Williams ranked the top 4 point guards in college basketball. Berry didn’t make the list (he was fifth).
UNC senior Theo Pinson, who is Berry’s best friend, noticed Williams’ list and conveniently sent the video clip to Berry.
“Sometimes you do need something that gives you a little boost to get you right,” Berry said. “I thank ESPN and thank everything they do for us.”