One on one with Joel Berry

Joel Berry

He's one of the top point guards in the class of 2014, and he's got any number of high major options from which to choose. Will Duke be among the schools who jumps in with Orlando's Joel Berry? The five star prospect sat down with TDD to discuss that and much more this week.

TDD: Getting to play Nike EYBL as a known guy now, do you approach this year differently as opposed to a few years ago?

Joel Berry: No, not really, I just go out there and play my game and just let everything else with colleges and offers sort itself out. I have another year in the EYBL after this, so I'm just concentrating on playing hard.

EYBL has given the opportunity for top players to not only play against each other, but also develop friendships with other guys, is it that way for you too Joel?

Yeah, last year I knew just a couple guys from playing but now I know a lot of guys, especially with Team USA and all the camps, you just get to know them. It's fun to just get out on the court and play against them and be cool off the court. It's a great experience, couldn't ask for anything more.

Who are the guys this year that you are making good friendships with?

One of the guys, one of my favorite players is Tyus Jones, who is another of the top point guards in our class. We're similar, and we hang out a lot. At Team USA I was hanging with him and his family the whole time. I was really homesick and his family just took me while we were gone and made me feel like their family was mine.

I'm friends too with Jahlil Okafor and Stanley Johnson and Kendrick Nunn, all the guys, it's great to know them, they made me feel welcome.

How do you maintain a friendship with Tyus knowing that there are many who try to make it a competitive between you?

When we are around each other we just joke around and don't talk about basketball too much. We see how each other are doing, we don't ever make it a competitive thing between each other.

What are the things that you and Tyus share in common now that you've gotten to know him?

We both like the same style of music, I don't know how to explain it, we just joke around a lot, we are just similar in we're out going guys, having fun, getting experience, it's all great.

Tyus has been discussed in the media as wanting to play with other players in your class--have you ever thought about wanting to do something similar?

Yes, there's a couple I think I'd like to play together, but the big thing is going to a school where they have a chance to win a national championship. I'd love the chance to play with Jahlil in college, you could do a lot of things with a good point guard and a good big man and then add other pieces to that.

Or you could play with a guy like Justise Winslow, an athletic small forward, he's an attacking guy and can shoot from the outside. It'd also be cool to play with a guy like Stanley Johnson, a big who does work around the basket on defense which I like, I'm defense first, so guys like that when we around each other we talk about playing together. I'd love to go to school with somebody I know from Team USA or EYBL.

What are your thoughts on Kasey Hill and Chris Walker teaming up to play for Coach Donovan at Florida?

Coach Donovan is getting two great guys, I know Kasey Hill real well, we played together when I was younger and we won two national championships together. He's a great guy and so is Chris.

What was the experience like for you playing in Lithuania? Was it out of your comfort zone or did you really enjoy it?

Kinda bot, really. The food was out of my comfort zone, and it was my first time out of the country. We faced adversity in some of us got stuck in Madrid with myself, Tyus Jones and Stanley and then some got stuck in the Canary Islands. We didn't eat a lot, the food was different, we did a great job at overcoming adversity and still produce and win the gold medal. Tell me what's it like getting selected to represent the United States?

It's great because looking at the TV now and seeing all the NBA stars playing in London and even though we're not on that level, it's great knowing I still got to wear the same jersey. Even if I don't get a chance to play in the Olympics, going at this age was great because a lot of kids don't get the opportunity to play for Team USA. I can always look back and say, I won a gold medal.

What do you think it was about you that made the coaches want to select you to play on the team?

The coaches sat us all down in training camp and they wanted to see where everybody was. They were asking questions like how would you react if you didn't get a lot of playing time or you were the 11th or 12th guy off the bench. How would you feel about that or what can you bring to the team and I just told them that if I was the 12th man, I'd be ready for whenever my number was called and I would prove that I could earn playing time. I felt like the coaches appreciated my defense and hustle because we pressed a lot of teams full court and I think that's what the coaches liked about my game. Not everybody can score.

What makes you have that attitude when most guys in high school it's all about getting buckets?

I like to start my game with defense because if you just concentrate on scoring and not play defense, you'll never stop the other team and it'll just be back and forth all game. It also comes from me playing defense in football. I love to play aggressive, that helps me a lot in basketball. It kills a players confidence when you put defensive pressure on them and you are stealing the ball from them or taking them out of what they want to do, it kills them on both ends and they get down on themselves. That's why I like starting with defense.

Did anybody have a big influence on you with that?

My dad loves to see great defense. He was like, you have the offensive game, if you could have a better defensive game, your offensive game will take off by getting steals, disrupt passes, getting out on the break, you can get easy buckets. That's why I like coaches who talk about playing hard defense and getting out on break after good defense is played. My high school coaches and also helped me get better on defense, especially with like taking charges, that's been a strong point for me with my defense.

Are there any guards in college or NBA you've tried to incorporate what they do into your game on offense or defense?

With offensive, I really like Derrick Rose, especially with him being short for the NBA, he's developed a mid range game with strength and quickness, I think I have that too. He can go to the whole, get big men involved, he can shoot sometimes, you just never know what he's going to do and that's what I try to do. If you are up on me, you don't know what I'm going to do. Defensive, I haven't found anybody in the NBA that I really look to yet.

Take me back to Team USA and getting the opportunity to meet the National Team and Coach K in Las Vegas, what was that like?

It was exciting, I was telling my mom that I was gonna go up to LeBron and do all this different kind of stuff and when I finally got to meet him all I could say was "what's up". Getting to finally meet him, it was just so totally different in person. They were talking to us at practice, we were able to talk with them and we were surprised they were talking to us. They are NBA stars and you know how some guys are stuck up, big heads. None of them were like that.

Staying in the hotel, the Wynn, when I first walked in, I couldn't believe it, I was trying to figure out the lights and everything because it's the best hotel room i've ever been in. The light switches controlled everything in the room and when I laid down to go to bed, it just made me want to work harder because if you can get to that point in the NBA, that's when you know you are a good player. I'm a LeBron fan, it was great seeing how hard they practiced.

What did you learn in observing meetings and practices?

We sat in on one meeting, and I noticed that Coach K really listened to his players, especially on defensive stuff. He was asking them what they wanted to do with pick and rolls, what did they want to do with cutters and switching, he let them all give his opinion then he approved LeBron's thoughts and then they put it in practice.

They were all in it together, that was great to see.

What's it like getting to see Coach K in that setting?

It was great to see that because a lot of people think the NBA guys are just free styling out there and there' s no coaching going on, but at the team meeting you see him coaching guys and a lot of guys don't get to see that. Honestly, more people should see that because then they could see how good that team is because of Coach K and since he started coaching them, it's great seeing that.

What makes you value him for that approach?

Having the NBA guys on that team, you would think that they would think they are too good to be able to get coached, and Coach K, he approached them like he was at his college. He was coaching the whole team. The guys listened to him and they took what they were talking about in the meeting and put it into practice. It was really great seeing them do that because you could tell they were taking everything in  that he was telling them, that's why they are playing so great right now.

Does any of that translate into your evaluation of Duke on the recruiting side of things?

It doesn't really play into the recruiting side of things for me. It was just great getting to see Coach K in that setting, coaching his team and seeing them work hard. It didn't have anything to do with recruiting, it was great getting to see what it took to play on that level.

Did you have any conversation with Coach K?

When we were at breakfast he was talking with us about the plan for the day, then in between breaks in practice he was joking around with us, talking about what they were doing. It was a great experience.

Has that been your only conversation with Coach K or the Duke staff?

That was my first experience. They haven't contacted me yet, but they have contacted my coaches.

Who have you noticed watching you during Nike EYBL?

A lot of the local schools. Miami's been there, I haven't paid close attention to it, I'm not sure who has been there a lot.

Who is the current list of firm, committable offers?

Florida, Florida State, Miami, UCF and Kansas.

How do Kasey Hill and Chris Walker impact your consideration of Florida?

My dream is to get to the NBA, so I'm not sure if I would go to Florida because I want to play in the NBA as a point guard. If I went there and Kasey was there, I'd have to slide over and play the two guard and I don't want to do that. But if they are one and done, I would be highly interested in them.

Florida State is being strongly considered by Andrew Wiggins, how much are you aware of what's going on there?

Yeah the coaches call me all the time, they told me they'd make me a pro, and that I'd be running the team at the PG position. If Andrew Wiggins picks them, I'm also highly interested in them because they are a hometown team, but if Andrew picks them, I'd be very interested in them too.

Are you a guy who is more than likely going to stay home in Florida for college?

No, I would be open to other schools but I will look hard at local schools because my family could come to games. But if you need to go to another school to fulfill your dream of playing in the NBA, I'd have to look at that.

Are there schools indicating strong interest in you but no offer yet?

Yeah, Ohio State, North Carolina, Maryland, that's about it.

North Carolina's interest--what's it like? I like North Carolina, I've talked with Coach McGrath. He texts me a lot, we talk a lot about the program. With their depth chart though they've got two-three point guards there with Marcus Paige, Nate Britt so I'd have to see what they do this year because Marcus Paige might stay for several years, then Nate Britt's there and I might have to sit for the first two years.

Are you the type who wants to come in and play real minutes as a freshman?

Yeah, I would say so because i've gotten used to being a starting player. If I have to come off the bench that's fine but I would try to prove myself to the coaches that I belong in the game. My thing is I want to make an impact.

Is there any interest from Duke or Kentucky?

There's been interest from Duke, but not from Kentucky.

How well do you know Austin Rivers?

Yes I'm friends with Austin, one summer, I got to get in and play with him. We talked when I was playing with him, when we see each other we talk too.

What were your thoughts on how he played last year?

He played pretty good I'd say. I know he came in and had a great impact on Duke. He had an opportunity to go pro and getting drafted 10th, and that wasn't bad at all. I think he deserved it because watching him coming up, he worked hard as a player. With him going to the Hornets with Anthony Davis, they'll be pretty good this year.

Are there schools you know for sure you want to go visit?

No, not really, don't have a list yet.

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