Joel Berry II waited for his name to be called during the NBA draft this past June, but the moment never came. Despite going undrafted, Berry agreed to a free-agent deal with the Los Angeles Lakers and would be a part of the purple and gold’s young brass during summer league. Unfortunately for Berry, the former Most Outstanding Player of the 2017 NCAA Final Four who brought a national championship to Chapel Hill his junior year, an ankle injury sidelined him during the Lakers’ second-place finish in Vegas.
With training camp near and four players (Rajon Rondo, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and Isaac Bonga) at the point guard position, Berry hopes to show L.A.’s front office that he’s deserving of a roster spot. HoopsHype caught up with Florida’s former three-time Mr. Basketball recipient about joining the Lakers, LeBron James, preparing for the NBA and more.
How tough was it not to hear your name called on draft night?
Joel Berry II: It was pretty tough. It’s always a dream to hear your name get called, but honestly, I’ve always taken the path where I was always overlooked and my game is not the flashiest – I just win – and that speaks more than being a flashy player. I necessarily don’t get looked at like other guys. It hurt for a little bit, but then I realized that’s the path that I’ve always taken and that’s what’s gotten me to where I’m at today. This is why I work so hard. I realized the path I had to take to get to where I want to be.
What was the first thing that came to mind when you got the news you were signing with the Lakers?
JB: When Magic [Johnson] called me that night of the draft and [spoke of] how they wanted me on their summer league team. … For me to go from one prestigious program in Carolina to a prestigious NBA organization, that’s what I’m about being a part of the best with the Lakers organization. It doesn’t get any better than that with the players that have gone through that organization. When I made that decision, I was really excited about it.
Has it hit you that you’re going to be on the court with LeBron James when the team begins training camp?
JB: It hasn’t hit me yet. I don’t think it’ll hit me till I actually get out on the court. At that time, it’s not about being star struck. It’s a matter of being able to get out there and just competing with him. That’s the blessing to be around and not only learn from one of the best in the game but being able to get out on the court and compete with him. Not too many people get that opportunity, and for me to do that my first year is just a blessing.
What’s your point of emphasis when you’re surrounded with a guy like LeBron?
JB: Just try to gravitate towards him whenever they’re talking or playing; just see some of the things that they’re doing. And just trying to pick their brain whenever I get a chance. A guy like him probably has a lot going on, but when I don’t know or I’m curious about something, I’m going to put my pride aside and ask him. If he ignores me, oh well, but I’m going to keep on pushing and pick his brain and show how important it is for me to be the best that I can be. I want to be in his position one day; that’s what I’m striving for and I believe I can. It’s just a matter of me learning from the best and doing it at the same time.
You were eight when he made his NBA debut. What’s one favorite memory that sticks out to you throughout his career?
JB: I liked him when he was on the Cavs because you really see how great of an individual he is and how he doesn’t need to have the best players around him for his team to have success. When he was with the Heat, you kind of knew he had Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and all those guys were NBA All-Stars … but if you go back and look who was on his team with the Cavs with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. For example, this year you can see how great of a player he is. He didn’t have the best of the talent in the NBA around him, but they still made it to the Finals and no one expected that at the beginning of the playoffs. It goes to speak to his leadership and how great of a player he is. I liked him better when he was with the Cavs.
At the point guard position, another vet you’ll be around is Rajon Rondo. Have you had the chance to speak with him already?
JB: Not yet. I’m hoping before training camp starts. He’s in my position, so that’s – LeBron is a great player don’t get me wrong – but you get better information when you’re speaking to a guy from your position inside and out, and finding out what it takes to be a point guard in the NBA. College wasn’t easy [for me] transitioning to being a college point guard, but it’s going to be a little different for me to be a point guard in the NBA. But that’s part of the process. Hopefully, I get a chance to speak to him before things get crazy… but that’s definitely a guy that I’m looking to pick his brain before everything gets started.
The ankle injury kept you out during summer league and I can imagine how tough it was for you to watch from the sidelines. What’s the current status on that?
JB: I’m still rehabbing because my ankles are one of those things where you have to work on a consistent basis. I can get back on the court right now, but I want to make sure that I’m 100 percent because I don’t want to tweak it. I’m just making sure that everything is good for training camp.
As an incoming rookie, what are some personal goals you’ve set for yourself as you begin your NBA journey?
JB: I’ve set high goals for myself. My first plan is just to make the official roster. But having to take the path I’m taking – being undrafted and having to do a lot of pre-draft workouts – getting a chance with the Lakers was the first goal of mine. So now it’s taking it step by step, making the roster and once I get on the roster, I want to be able to contribute and play. My goal is not just to make it to the NBA, but be somebody one day. That’s what I’m striving for. I’m going to set high goals for myself and I want to be in the talks of winning Rookie of the Year. I know that’s a long way and I have to do a lot, but those are the goals I want to set for myself.