Joseph Bertrand "Gets it"

March Madness is the best time of the year for high school and college basketball fans. Barring a major turnaround during the conference tournament, the Fighting Illini will not be dancing. But their recruits are showing the great promise of the future. Sterling guard Joseph Bertrand came on strong at the right time, as he scored a career high last night. Read here for more on Bertrand.

Joseph Bertrand, the 6'5" guard from Sterling, IL, had an amazing Sectional game last night in Freeport, IL. The four-star Illinois recruit, for the class of 2009, led his team to a 75-65 victory over Burlington Central. Bertrand went off for a career high 38 points on 14-of-19 shooting, including 4-of-5 from long distance. The junior also pulled down 10 rebounds, dished out 4 assists, blocked 3 shots and added two steals for good measure. Talk about stuffing the stat sheet!

I asked Sterling Warriors Coach Peter Goff what did he tell his team when it became clear Bertrand was having the night of his life. "I told them clear the floor and let Joseph take the game over. I'm kidding" Goff said with a laugh. Goff knows the kind of special player he has, "Kedric, we've talked before. Joe is a great kid, but sometimes he's too nice or too unselfish. He's a great kid that has a lot of talent. I thought tonight he did a great job all around. Burlington Central didn't try any gimmick defenses so he was able to attack the basket and kick out for open shots for his teammates," said Goff.

Despite the incredible individual statistics, Bertrand knows it is about the team, not any single player. "Tonight was a good night for my team first. We won and that's great. We're all excited to still be playing right now, because when you lose now, the season is over," said Bertrand. The star also gave well-deserved credit to Goff. "My coach has been great to me, telling me to be more aggressive on the offensive end of the floor. He's coached me long enough now where he can see when I'm doing things wrong. He was telling me that when I attack the basket, to just pull up and stop floating and I would make more shots, and last night it all came together for me and my team," Bertrand said.

With the high school playoffs in full force, Illinois coaches have been trying to see as many games as possible. When they cannot make a game, they have been trying to stay in contact with their recruit's coaches. "I haven't been down for a game in sometime, but just the other day Coach Weber called and talked to Coach Goff. As far as my future teammates go, I try to follow them to see how they're doing. I usually talk to D.J. Richardson a lot but I just found out his team lost, so I'll be talking to him to see how that went," stated Bertrand.

Dave Telep Recruiting Director of Scout.com had this to say about Bertrand: "Joseph is a kid who you see long term as a starting wing player in a big conference. As his strength catches up to his natural abilities his game will expand. He's gradually improved every season and the thinking is that the biggest jump is likely to come this summer." I was given the opportunity to see some of Bertrand's game footage last night and his ball handling and his first step can't be stopped. Now, he just needs to keep that aggressive mindset Coach Goff has been preaching, because if he does, the sky's the limit for him.

Opinions may vary slightly on Bruce Weber's great incoming classes, depending which recruiting guru, coach, or database you look at. It's clear each player brings something different to the table and they balance each other out very well. There are talent post players, athletic and talented wings, and some very good guards.

Say what you want about this year's Illinois team, but I will go on record saying the future of Illinois basketball is not only bright, but scary! I base this opinion, in part, on watching Richardson score 21 points Tuesday night, and all of them but the free throws came because of his immense athletic ability. At that same game, a Peoria AAU coach had high praise for a fellow junior commit, Brandon Paul. The coach said, "Paul can go, he's an unbelievable athlete that can shoot and will dunk in your face." Paul ended his season with 36 points. As noted above, Bertrand's team is still going strong, thanks to his strong all-around play last night.

The class of 2009 has three very talented guard/wings, but let's not forget about the big man, Tyler Griffey, a versatile 6'9" forward that can do it all. He's adept at shooting the mid-range jump shot and is effective out to the three-point line. And while he can drive opponents crazy with his perimeter skills, he's just as effective, if not more so, on the block. The Illini class of 2009 is bursting with talented players.

As of now, the class of 2008 has just one future Illini, Chicago Simeon's 6'9" big man, Stan Simpson. The transfer has seen his numbers explode in his first season at Simeon. In his last game against Hope, Simpson dominated with 19 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 blocked shots. It seems his game is blossoming at the right time for his high school teammates and Illini fans.

The class of 2010 has its share of highly rated talent. Jereme Richmond, a 6'6" five-star All-American, can do it all. And the weird thing for Richmond is that he's only a sophomore. There appears to be little doubt that if he were a senior this year, he would still be one of the top three players in the state of Illinois. Last but not least, Crandall Head is a 6'3" athlete who can play a number of different positions. He's just a sophomore but plays with such an amazing understanding for the game. Some say he is just as good now, as a sophomore, as his big brother Luther was when he was a senior. That's high praise, but Crandall's ranking would seem to support that assertion.

To those fans who have not seen this group of commitments and who are frustrated by the current state of Illini basketball, all I can say to you is this: Please, please wait before jumping ship. This group of young men are very good players. And for anyone that still tags Weber, Jerrance Howard, Jay Price, and Wayne McClain as poor recruiters, you should stop and save it unless you have seen all these kids play. In a "normal" year, I would bet, most of these young men would all be four or five star recruits. Of course, with the summer AAU circuit on the horizon, the few that are not up to that level of recognition just might find their way onto the national scene.

Keep it locked to InsideIllini.com as we continue to track the progress of Bertrand and Simpson in the playoffs, and then follow all the future Illini in their summer AAU action.


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