Phil Ford and Joel Berry: 40 years of point guard greatness.
Forty years ago, Rocky Mount’s Phil Ford finished his college career as UNC’s all-time leading scorer and assist maker. The assist mark lasted nine years before Kenny Smith surpassed it in 1987, and 13 years after that Ed Cota set a new career mark of 1,030 that still stands.
Ford’s all-time scoring record of 2,290 points stood up for more than 30 years until Tyler Hansbrough broke it and also became the ACC’s top scorer ever. Ford was at the Smith Center in 2008 and was thrilled Psycho T had the new UNC scoring mark.
Joel Berry wasn’t quite the scorer or assist man to equal Ford, but he was just as ferocious a competitor, perhaps more so. Ford started his first game as a freshman; Berry had to learn the college game after being named Mr. Basketball in Florida twice. But he did, and finished with more than 1800 points, 400 assists and 400 rebounds at Carolina.
Ford was a first-round draft pick of the old Kansas City Kings, earning Rookie of the Year and all-star honors during his NBA career. After retiring as a player, he turned to coaching that included 12 years as an assistant to Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge and as an aide to Larry Brown for three NBA teams. Ford won a national championship as a coach in 1993 and also has an NBA ring from the Detroit Pistons’ 2004 season.
Berry, of course, won that NCAA title in 2017 and was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. His jersey will be honored and join Ford’s retired No. 12 in the rafters of the Dean Dome some time during the upcoming season. Forty years apart, both point guards made their mark on Carolina basketball.
They have also have had their recent challenges. Ford underwent successful surgery for prostate cancer and is recovering nicely. He has his own foundation that supports childhood obesity, and he gives clinics to teams and individuals. He also has an inspirational children’s book called “The Kid Who Couldn’t Dunk” – because at barely six feet tall, that was the only thing he never could learn to do with a basketball.
Berry went undrafted and since, 40 years after Ford, six foot guards have it much tougher covering and scoring over taller opponents. He signed with the Lakers as a free agent, but don’t count out this 2018 version of Phil Ford from having his own NBA career.