Sam Berry, who earned basketball All American honors in high school and college, has died.
Berry passed away on October 14 in a Phoenix, Arizona hospice facility after a bout with leukemia. He was 68.
According to his daughter, Monica Berry Bentley, her father had cancer before and overcame it. “He beat cancer three timesprostate, colon and brain cancer.”
The 6-foot-8 former basketball star made history, becoming the first African American athlete from Savannah to accept a basketball scholarship from what was then known as Armstrong State College.
Before the start of his freshman season at Armstrong, head coach Bill Alexander stated in his preseason comments about Berry that “Without a doubt, Sam has the greatest potential of any player ever to play at Armstrong.”
During his time in a Pirate uniform, Berry had a career average of 23.9 points and 12.7 rebounds per game while shooting 48.1 percent from the field. As a freshman during the 1971- 72 season, Berry scored 28.8 points and grabbed 15.7 rebounds a night while shooting 49.5 percent from the floor. He also blocked 72 shots that season. Those numbers resulted in Berry earning honorable mention NAIA All American honors as well as NAIA District 25 honors as a freshman and sophomore.
The accolades kept pouring in during his junior and senior seasons as well. Berry made the All-South Atlantic Conference team and was voted the SAC Player of the Year during the 1974-75 and 1975-76 seasons. As a junior he was an Associated Press honorable mention All American and made the AP All American Third team as a senior as well as brought home NABC District/Region III honors.
Berry averaged 21.2 points and 13.4 rebounds a game as a sophomore while blocking a career-high 79 shots. As a junior he scored 23.4 points and pulled down 11.8 rebounds a night and during his senior campaign he closed out his collegiate career with 24 points a game and 9.5 rebounds.
Berry’s name can be found in the Armstrong basketball record books.
He tops the charts in career rebounds (1,331), points (2,508), blocks (232) and field goals made (1,082) and is second in points per game (23.9). Berry is third in made free throws (344) and rebounds per game (12.7).
Berry scored a career high 46 points against Augusta College in 1976 and hauled down a career high and Armstrong record 29 rebounds against crosstown rival Savannah State in 1972.
He was enshrined in the inaugural Armstrong Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995.
During the 1975 NBA draft, Berry was the 88th pick overall and was selected in the fifth round by the Buffalo Braves.
Before enrolling at Armstrong, Berry was a local hoop star. Known for his powerful rebounding and fade away jumpers, Berry led Savannah High to the Georgia Class AAA finals where they dropped a heart-breaker to Carver Columbus 52-51 and finished the 1970-71 season with a 27-2 record. He picked up high school all-city, all region, all state and all American accolades his senior year which drew interest from Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Alabama among other big time programs.
Longtime friend Joe Gilbert remembered his friend saying they were inseparable growing up. Gilbert added that Berry grew up on Atlantic Avenue and Gwinnett Street.
“We were friends since kindergarten,” says Gilbert. “Sam was a gifted athlete and smart too. He was a good man.”
Berry served in the United States Army after college and was a member of the Army basketball team where he got the chance to travel the world.
Following his stint in the military, he settled down in Sacramento, California but ended up relocating to Arizona. In February 2019, he retired from Hunter Douglas, a Dutch multinational corporation whose principal business is making window blinds and coverings, as a plant manager after 15 years of service. Weeks before his death, Berry was presented a proclamation from the company stating that all employee of the month awards shall be named the Sam Berry Associate of the Year Award.
Funeral services were held for Berry on Oct. 16 at Palm Valley Funeral Home in Sun City, AZ.
Berry is survived by his wife, Quinndella Berry; four children: Monica Berry Bentley, Sioban Berry Ray, Lashonda Berry and Victor Troi Berry; six grandchildren; one sister, Geneva Berry; and one brother, James Berry.