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Joel Berry II: A Rookie in the G League

The former North Carolina star’s professional basketball journey is beginning in the G League with the South Bay Lakers.

Argentina v USA - FIBA Americas Qualifier Photo by Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images

For players who go undrafted in the NBA draft, summer league is usually the place where they’re able to showcase their game and try to earn a coveted NBA roster spot.

It didn’t quite work out that way for Joel Berry II as he suffered an ankle injury that prevented him from taking part in summer league in Las Vegas. Despite that, Berry was able to learn the professional game on the sidelines. He paid attention as best he could to prepare himself for the next step in his basketball journey.

”For me, the biggest thing was just staying healthy. But being able to just see the game, soak up the knowledge from the coaches, and be able to hear something from the sidelines, it’s always a chance to get better and to learn stuff whether you’re playing or not,” Berry told Ridiculous Upside. “I just tried to keep my head in it and be positive. But the summer league, it was good for me to be able to learn, and especially during training camp with the guys I was able to be around.”

Although he wasn’t able to show what he could do on the court, the Los Angeles Lakers were intrigued enough to bring him to training camp prior to the start of the NBA season.

He was one of the top point guards in the nation during his senior season at North Carolina. He was named to the All ACC First team with 17.1 points per game, 3.2 assists, and 1.2 steals. He was also one of the conference’s best three-point shooters and won Final Four Most Outstanding Player during the Tar Heels 2017 championship run.

While the Lakers made him one of their final cuts prior to the start of the season, he believes the four years he spent at North Carolina were definitely beneficial as he navigates the world of professional basketball.

”Just being there four years, you kind of learn how to be somewhat of a professional,” Berry told Ridiculous Upside. “Being at Carolina, and the brotherhood that we have, we have a lot of guys that come back from the NBA and try to groom us before we get a chance to step out here on the court in the NBA. I’ve learned that through our system.”

Now, Berry is hoping to gain footing in the G League. After being cut by the Lakers, he immediately joined their G League affiliate, the South Bay Lakers.

So far, he’s established himself as a solid backup point guard for the team. In 15 games played, he’s put up 11.1 points per game and 2.2 assists. He had a season-high 26 points against the Agua Caliente Clippers on Nov. 20, and most recently at the G League Showcase in Las Vegas, he had 19 points against the Greensboro Swarm.

Playing in the G League has been an adjustment for Berry so far, but he’s been impressed with the level of play in the league.

”At every level, it’s a different game. This game is different from the college level as far as there’s a lot of pick and rolls and a lot of reads that you have to know. For me, being a rookie, I’m just trying to soak up as much knowledge as I can from the older guys who have played in the G League and the NBA and from the coaches as well, to take that and use it out on the court to my advantage,” Berry told Ridiculous Upside. “That’s what I’ve been able to do, and each and every game I’m just trying to get more comfortable with myself and my game and what I can do. At the end of the day, I just try to go out there and compete.”

Berry was also recently given the honor of being named to Team USA during the FIBA World Cup Qualifier second-round games. It was Berry’s second time playing with Team USA as he was a part of the 2012 U17 championship team back when he was in high school.

This time around, Berry was hoping to gain as much knowledge as possible that would help him in the G League as he works toward his goal of the NBA.

“It’s a lot of connections, you got some good coaches that are coaching you,” Berry told Ridiculous Upside. “Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Fox from Georgia, and John Thompson, those are well-known coaches that coached on the college level and NBA level, so being able to get that experience from them and learning from them and being around the guys that I’ll be around, all that just goes hand in hand with it.”

And as the G League season goes on, Berry is going to keep working hard, contributing to South Bay, while striving to earn a call-up to the NBA.

At North Carolina, he was recognized for his determination and will to win. Along with his skill set, that’s the main thing he’s hoping to bring should he get that chance.

”At the end of the day, I pride myself on winning, so I’m gonna try to do whatever I can to try to compete. No matter what they ask of me, I’m willing to do it,” Berry told Ridiculous Upside. “I’m gonna go out there and just do what I do. At the end of the day, it’s all about winning and that’s what I want to do.”