Apopka has a well-earned reputation as a football town. With the success of Apopka High School in winning state championships on the gridiron, it is no wonder. But tonight there will be an Apopka native playing in the NCAA Basketball championship game - Joel Berry II.
Berry, a point guard for The University of North Carolina, played high school basketball at Lake Highland Preparatory School, but lived in Apopka with his parents Joel Sr. and Kathie Berry. He led Lake Highland to three state titles and was the first player named Florida's Mr. Basketball three times in a row from 2012-2014. He was also named a Parade and McDonald's All-American as a senior in 2014 before signing to play college basketball with the (University of North Carolina) Tar Heels.
At only 6 feet tall, Berry does not have the physical size or skills as many at this level of basketball, but he more than makes up for it in work and effort.
“His work ethic and discipline were by far the greatest I’ve ever coached,” said Jason Vallery, Berry's coach at Lake Highland.
That work ethic was evident this past off-season as Berry overcame a series of nagging injuries in his freshman year and improved in the areas targeted by his current coach Roy Williams.
“He did a great job in the off-season of working on the things we talked about,” Williams says. “And he’s continued to work — he’s better right now than he was the first day of practice. It’s not coaching secrets, it’s sweat by the player.”
And that blood, sweat and tears mentality led to another valued component in Berry's game - consistency.
Berry averaged 12.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game during the regular season and in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. Then in the NCAA Tournament, he averaged nearly the same numbers - 12.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game in the five Tar Heel contest thus far.
“Joel, I would probably say, has been our most consistent player all year long,” Williams said. “Just with each and every game, I thought he got more confidence and more confidence and more confidence. He can play the total game.”
And tonight will be his biggest game on the biggest stage in college basketball.
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