Joseph Bertrand is one of a group of four outstanding freshmen now enrolled at the University of Illinois. The former Sterling standout was an enigma in high school, showing great ability in some games and then sleepwalking through others. The rap on him was his lack of consistency in showing off his athleticism and talent.
But despite his ups and downs, he seemed to rise to the occasion when the competition stiffened. Playing against fellow freshman Brandon Paul in a team shootout at the Assembly Hall as a high school junior, Bertrand flashed an impressive inside-outside game that had everyone in the audience buzzing. Of course, the following game he had an opposite result, making people wonder which was the real player.
Now that he is competing with quality teammates who have talent and experience at the college level, it appears Bertrand has responded favorably. He agrees the competition has brought out the best in him.
"Yeah, a lot. I see in open gyms I'm doing more than I was doing back at Sterling. I'm having to do more to help the team out, being more aggressive and going 100% all the time."
Those pickup games are intense. Allowed to watch one day, the media noticed Bertrand playing with aggressiveness and confidence. The change of scenery has been good for him.
"It's going good so far. We play almost every day, and we just get better and better every time. We're getting on each other, getting each other better. I know I'm getting better from an intensity standpoint and the challenges every day."
He must be intense to earn playing time this winter since fellow freshmen D.J. Richardson and Paul are his equal in ability and determination. And all three must battle upperclassmen Demetri McCamey and Alex Legion as well.
Strength and conditioning workouts have also been intense, and Bertrand has benefitted from the extra emphasis on all the muscles he must use in the game of basketball.
"I think I've put on 5 pounds so far. I've been working out hard and getting stronger. It's been more intense and more often than high school. In high school, I was working basically on benching and squats the whole time. Here, I'm working on other parts."
Things were a little easier back in Sterling. He could take some plays off. And he often deferred to his teammates, allowing them to share the limelight. One might say he sacrificed his own game at times.
"Yeah, a little bit. We had a good team back then too. A lot of our team could score and do everything else."
But perhaps the creme is finally rising to the top. The 6'-5" Bertrand has long arms and uses them to steal the ball on defense. He has an impressive 39" verticle jump which allowed him to become a three-time state dunk champ. And he likes to run the floor.
Bertrand played point guard some in high school, and his unselfishness is conducive to that position.
"Yeah, a little bit. I also like getting to the basket and scoring.
He is capable of playing three positions, and he is happy wherever Illinois coach Bruce Weber decides to play him.
"I like all three. I don't know, whatever he needs me to do."
Bertrand likes both to score and set up teammates. But he does have a preference.
"It's a little bit of both. I like to finish more though."
The intelligent, articulate Bertrand hasn't determined a college major, but he has plenty of time to do so.
"I don't know yet what I will major in. Hopefully, I'll figure it out eventually."