Joe Bertrand Comes Into His Own In Italy

With the graduation of four seniors, there is a newness on the Fighting Illini basketball team. Younger squadmen must step up and lead a talented but inexperienced group of freshmen. The trip to Italy offered an opportunity for players to compete for playing time this fall. No one improved his status on the team more than redshirt sophomore Joe Bertrand.

Joe Bertrand has labored in anonymity his first two years on the Illinois campus. Injured and forced to redshirt his freshman year, Bertrand needed last season to learn the system and find a niche.

He saw minimal playing time last winter but never gave up on himself. With the graduation of four starters, Bertrand now has a chance to earn playing time.

He made a big impression on the Italy trip, his 8.8 scoring average ranking third on the team. He shot an impressive 61% from the field, hit 3 of 4 three point shots, grabbed 15 rebounds in 4.75 games and had an effective 12 to 7 assist-to-turnover ratio. He also added five steals.

The shy, unassuming Sterling grad admitted the trip helped him as a basketball player.

"It went real well. I've been working on my shot a lot lately, and it's paid off. It definitely helped me with my confidence."

Illini coach Bruce Weber encouraged everyone to face the challenge of the trip, and Bertrand responded.

"The coaches were talking about how this was a big opportunity to start the team and see how we were going to do. I tried to play my best. I was really looking forward to the trip and tried to stay focused."

The 6'-5" Bertrand is highly athletic with great leaping ability. He is best in a fast-paced game like was common in Italy. He is highly effective in transition.

"Yeah. It's everyone's game. We're all quick and athletic. Even our posts can run the court really fast. That's one thing we're definitely trying to put into our arsenal to get teams rattled."

If he has lacked anything in the past, it was self-confidence. His recent successes have allowed him to reconsider his goals.

"Yeah, I think so. I got to play a lot of minutes and started some games. I know everybody played about the same amount on the trip. Once the season gets here, everybody's gonna see where they fit in. I'll try to do my best out there."

Also helping his confidence was the realization he is one of the older players on the team. Leadership is now part of his responsibility.

"I'm usually the one asking for help from the older guys. Now, looking around there's no older guys. So they're asking me for help, and I'm coming up with the answers. So hopefully I'll lead them the right way.

"They're all learning the game, just like all of us. We're all kind of learning from each other. Even the juniors are still learning. I think the upperclassmen can teach the freshmen how to play the game right."

The trip was an excellent way to develop team chemistry.

"Definitely. We've got a lot of freshmen. Coach tried to split us up with different roommates. I think we went to five different hotels, and we had a different roommate every time. He tried to pair an upperclassman with a freshman, and that worked out real good. Kind of show them the ropes and get to know each other. It went really good."

Of course, plenty of sightseeing produced life-long memories. What was his favorite?

"Probably climbing the Leaning Tower. It was fun; we took a lot of pictures up there. It was tiring with so many stairs. We were all tired when we got to the top. It was something I'll not forget."

Bertrand is a humble sort who has needed confidence more than anything. Perhaps this trip and his continued maturation will help him blossom as a person and player. If so, the Illini team will benefit.

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