Two of a Kind


By: ADAM LUCAS / Photos by: J.D. LYON, JR.

ADAM LUCAS: Do you remember the first time you met?

JOEL BERRY: I think it was at a basketball camp. We went to all the same camps on the AAU circuit. I noticed Theo, because he was always the one laughing and joking. I was the quieter one who didn't really say anything.

THEO PINSON: We went to a USA Basketball camp together. We were on the same team and everyone was playing pickup. We were running this play and Joel had scored twice in a row while he was running point guard. I was like, "Give me the ball, you go on the wing, I'll throw it to you and you go score." He did it three more times and I realized this dude could really score the ball.

AL: You started talking about some big goals as soon as you got on campus. What made you comfortable thinking that way so early on?

JB: We felt like people were overlooking us as recruits. Duke was getting all the top recruits and had a bunch of top guys in our same class. We went to the Nike Hoop Summit and Theo and I played about four minutes while the Duke guys played the whole time. We felt we were being overlooked, and we wanted to prove we had the same talent as those guys. We just needed and wanted the same opportunities as them. That was why I wanted to set high goals for myself and for the program.

TP: It really started in high school. We played each other in the Peach Jam championship game. Justin (Jackson)'s team made it to the final eight and lost-make sure you include that they lost-so we've been winning our whole lives. All three of us were back to back state champions in high school. We wanted to win the same way here.

AL: Did you realize how hard it would be to win a national title?

JB: The summer before our freshman year, Theo and I would go down to the gym and get on the gun and take 1,000 shots. We had our music on, and we were laughing and having fun. We thought we were working really hard. Then the season came around and practice started, and we were like, "Dang, this is really hard." It was the total opposite from what we thought it would be in terms of difficulty. That's what made us into what we are now. We saw how hard other guys were working and how tough it was to compete with them, and we wanted to be part of that.

TP: We came here to play in those big games. Joel and I have been in every situation in the country. Every big-time game, we've played in it. We've played in the greatest rivalry ever for four years. We went to back to back national championship games, two Final Fours, and have a chance at another one. Our first away game as a college player was at Kentucky against the 37-0 team. What haven't we been through and what haven't we faced? Going through these experiences with Joel and Coach Williams is something I will cherish.

AL: What's something outsiders might think is true about the other guy, but you know the truth?

JB: A lot of people see how Theo is as a person, when he's always laughing and the loudest person in the room. So they think he's goofing around in basketball. People don't understand that Theo is one of the most serious guys when it comes to the game. I don't know how he does it. He watches so much basketball. We'll play a game and I go back to my room. I'm laying on the bed, because I'm tired and I need a break, and I hear the whistle blowing from the other room. It's Theo watching the replay of the game. Pretty soon, he'll be yelling, "JB, come look at this!" He takes the game so seriously. He wants to learn from the mistakes and make himself and his team better. He is a student of the game.

TP: With Joel, everyone knows he's a hothead. People will come to me and say, "Theo, you have to talk to Joel." But you have to pick your spots with him. He's a grown man. He knows how to get himself going. Ultimately, he is always doing what he thinks is best for the team.

AL: What's something you have learned from the other that has made you better?

TP: His approach to the game and his killer mentality. I had a lull this season where I wasn't as aggressive or engaged in the game. I started thinking about Joel, and how he has that business mentality of trying to kill everyone in front of him. I'm trying to learn from the way he competes at all times.

JB: The way he studies the game. He sees stuff not everyone sees. I know that being a point guard, you have to see the floor. Sometimes I'm not as good at that because of how I am as a competitor. My first instinct is to score or be the one to take over. Theo sees the entire floor and sees things everyone can do to get better.

AL: How has the other changed since you arrived in Chapel Hill?

TP: His hair has gotten longer. Let's be honest-he looked terrible his freshman year.

JB: He's built a little more like his dad now.

TP: We've grown up together. We have to pay more attention to taking care of our bodies. I've been more tired this year than I've ever been. When we leave a game or a practice, we look at each other and we're like, "We're exhausted." It's been a long ride, but it's been so fun. That's one thing I wish people understood. Going to school for four years is not terrible at all. Sure, we wish we could've been first round picks after our first year and gotten all that money, but we played with some great players, we built so many great relationships, we got one national championship already and have a chance to get another one. What else can you ask for? No one can ever take these experiences away from us.

AL: What does that experience of being a Carolina basketball player mean to you?

TP: It means you cherish wearing that Carolina blue. We never take it for granted. We're human, so we don't play well all the time. But it's always important to us, because we value the program. That's the biggest thing for me. I never want anyone to say that Theo was acting like he was bigger than the program. I'll talk to anybody, anytime. I wanted to experience college. We gave all we had in practice and games, and we also had fun with our friends. I've enjoyed all four years and it's something I will never forget.

JB: It's an honor to play for this program and these coaches. So many people don't get these opportunities. So many people wish they were in our shoes. They probably don't realize that being a Carolina basketball player means you have to have a smile on your face every day. When we go on campus-I don't want this to sound like I'm talking down to anyone-everyone knows who we are. You never know who you might interact with on that day. One day I was walking across campus the day after a loss, and a little kid shouted my name out a window. There are days you just want to keep walking, but you can't do that, because like Theo said, the program is bigger than we are. So I waved at him and smiled, and who knows, that might have made his day. This is one of the most prestigious programs in the country, and it's important that we represent it the right way all the time.

This story appeared in the February 2018 edition of Born & Bred