North Carolina Tar Heels

Joel Berry to return to North Carolina for senior season

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A little more than a day after North Carolina Joel Berry II — along with Tony Bradley and All-American Justin Jackson — announced they would enter the 2017 NBA Draft, Berry reversed course decided to forgo the draft process and will return to Chapel Hill for his senior season.

“After speaking to my family I have decided to withdraw from the 2017 Draft and will return to Carolina next season,” Berry said in a statement released by the university on Tuesday evening. “I know I can continue to improve my game and be better prepared for the NBA after another year playing against the best college competition in the country. There’s no reason to rush leaving school. I love being a Tar Heel and love playing for Carolina and Coach Williams.

Berry, the Most Outstanding Player from this season’s Final Four, averaged 14.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.6 rebounds per game as a junior.

The 6-foot floor general will likely open next season as not only a preseason All-American but perhaps a favorite for national player of the year. Berry will join Theo Pinson as the returning starter for the Tar Heels. North Carolina was pegged as a top-5 team in an early preseason poll by NBC Sports. While Berry’s anticipated return is a big reason why, that ranking also hinges on the decision of Bradley, a 6-foot-10 forward who will be projected as a breakout player if he chooses to return for his sophomore season.

Prospects have until May 24 to withdraw from the NBA Draft.

North Carolina lawmakers take aim at ACC boycott with new bill

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The state of North Carolina lost concerts, a conference football championship game, the ACC women’s basketball tournament, an NBA All-Star Game, NCAA tournament games and untold dollars due to HB2, the state’s so-called “bathroom bill.”

It seems many of those are set to return with the bill’s repeal, though that isn’t without controversy, but some state lawmakers are looking to enact a potential boycott of their own.

Members of the North Carolina state House of Representatives introduced a bill this week that would call on the state’s public universities to withdraw from their conferences should those leagues enact any sort of boycott against the state.

That means, were the bill to pass, if the ACC were to formally decree its championships were not to be held in the state of North Carolina, the University of North Carolina and NC State would be, bound by law, required “to immediately provide written notice to the conference that the constituent institution intends to withdraw from the conference no later than when the assignment of its media rights expire, unless the conference immediately ends the boycott.”

Effectively, the Tar Heels and Wolfpack would be forced to announce its departure as soon as the ACC’s TV deal is up.

Obviously, the potential ramifications of such a bill would be great to some large universities. Private schools, such as Duke, would not be subject to such a law.

Given the money, logistics and politics involved, it would seem unlikely that this bill would be able to make it to law, but it underscores how impactful sports have been in the state’s handling of HB2 and all its subsequent issues. It’s also a pretty strong signal that sports – specifically college sports – will be a part of this conversation for as long as it goes on in North Carolina and likely anywhere else in the country.


Jordan too superstitious to attend UNC title game

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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There was a theory floating around the North Carolina locker room as to why the Tar Heels’ highest-profile fan, former UNC great Michael Jordan, had been nowhere to be seen during its title run that concluded Monday night with a win over Gonzaga.

“Last time we talked to him, we saw him, was the Duke game at home,” Theo Pinson said. “I think he thinks he’s bad luck.”

Turns out, after watching his beloved Tar Heels fall on a buzzer-beater in the title game in 2016, that’s precisely what His Airness was thinking.

“People asked me for the last day and a half if he was going to come,” UNC coach Roy Williams said on the Dan Patrick Show. “I said guys, knowing him, he’s going to say, ‘I went last year, you lost.’ That’s what I was thinking.”

As Williams made his way out of University of Phoenix Stadium with his third national title secured, he mentioned the theory once more to a North Carolina administrator.

“I’ll give you any odds you want,” Williams recalled saying, “but I’ll bet you a text message from Michael or a voicemail from Michael, and he’s going to say something about coming last year.

“Sure enough, I got on the bus … had a quite a few messages, and one of them was from Michael.

“So I collected some money last night.”

Even the greatest player of all time doesn’t want to tempt fate with a title on the line. Not to mention, no one can prove Jordan wasn’t right to stay away. North Carolina has another banner. Maybe he was on to something. It’s probably best not to question MJ on matters of basketball, anyway.

Watch: North Carolina fans rush Dean Dome floor

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The celebration wasn’t limited to Glendale. Or even Franklin Street in Chapel Hill.

No, the Dean Dome also helped house a party on the night North Carolina won the sixth national championship in program history with a triumph Monday over Gonzaga.

Given the Tar Heels are almost always favorites in this building, it’s not often subjected to a good old fashioned floor rushing.

A national championship, though, is a fitting moment to hit hardwood and appreciate the pinnacle of the sport.

Report: Arizona State helps fill North Carolina student section

AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato
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The Tar Heels are getting some help from the Sun Devils at the national championship game.

North Carolina didn’t sell out its allotment of student-section tickets, so the space was populated by some Arizona State students, according to USA TODAY.

Tempe is just a short jaunt away from Glendale, the site of the FInal Four. The proximity and available tickets provided for quite the Monday evening opportunity for some Arizona State kids.

“I’m here representing ASU, and I’m excited to be here,” Mitch Johnston told USA TODAY. “This was a huge surprise. I didn’t know what to do yesterday when I realized it. But I was like, ‘Alright, I’m about it. I can’t miss this opportunity.’”

Certainly, big swaths of empty seats in a visible students section wouldn’t translate well to television, nor would the missing energy created by students -apparently, whether their school is one of the participants or not.

Tickets were free and came with little direction other than to wear white, according to the report.

Hey, if the Oscars has seat fillers, why can’t college basketball?

No. 1 North Carolina handles No. 4 Butler en route to Elite Eight

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North Carolina, the top seed in the South region, jumped out to a 20-point second half led. While the No. 4 seed Butler Bulldogs would not go down quietly, the Tar Heels would keep the lead no less than 10 for the remainder of the evening, advancing to the Elite Eight with a 92-80 win on Friday night at the FedEx Forum in Memphis.

It was the bounce-back win the Tar Heels needed — following a near collapse against Arkansas in the second round — to assert themselves as serious contenders once again.

Joel Berry II, who had been hampered by an ankle injury suffered in the first round win against Texas Southern, had a game-high 26 points, off 8-of-13 shooting. That’s coming a weekend after 3-of-21 shooting in first and second half wins. Justin Jackson followed with 24 points. Luke Maye had 14 of his 16 points in the first half, an offensive explosion that included a trio of 3-pointers.

“Well, at this stage of the year, if you don’t have good offensive games or good defensive games, you go home,” North Carolina head coach Roy Williams told reporters after the game. “But we do need to be clicking a little bit on all cylinders. We’ve got one, two — we only had three guys in double figures today, one of them is 26 and the other 24, so that’s pretty good. But yes, we do need both of them making shots and doing some things for us.”

Williams is right. The Tar Heels do need to be clicking on a little bit on all cylinders. And on Friday night, they did a little more of that than they did in a second-round scare from the Razorbacks.

North Carolina’s offense didn’t have a lapse it did in the second half against Arkansas. When Butler cut the deficit to 10 with more than five minutes remaining, North Carolina countered with a 7-2 run. Part of the offensive efficiency should be attributed to the status of Berry’s ankle, which besides a few moments in the second half, didn’t plague him as much as it did in the previous contest. It also helped that Jackson avoided a 5-for-14 shooting performance and the Tar Heels cut down the turnovers from 17 to 10. They also held a good shooting team — one that needed to knock down shots from the outside if it wanted a chance to extend its season — to under 30 percent from beyond the arc.

The Tar Heels controlled the glass, and dominated the inside, outrebounding the Bulldogs 38-26 and scoring 42 points in the paint. That’s a good sign, as they should be expected to hold the advantage on the inside against either team they face in the Elite Eight.

Regardless of who prevails in the rematch between No. 3 seed UCLA and No. 2 seed Kentucky, the top-seeded Tar Heels are in for an all-out war on Sunday in the Elite Eight. But Friday night was the bounce-back performance that showed the Tar Heels are capable of putting it all together to book another trip to the Final Four.