Sterling High School graduate Joseph Bertrand has been looking forward to playing for Illinois. The state dunk champion has tremendous athleticism, long arms and a fluid style. He has a bright future. However, his present is still in doubt.
Six weeks before the start of formal practices, Bertrand underwent arthroscopic knee surgery to remove a portion of cartilage that had broken off. It was a minor procedure, but healing requires a minimum of 6 weeks. Bertrand is back working out with the team, but it is taking him awhile to get back to full speed.
"It's doing a little better," Bertrand reports. "I'm back doing the workouts. We're just watching it real close to see how it feels."
He had been on the stationary bicycle and had begun to do some shooting and other drills before practice began, but his first three hour practice set him back a little.
"After that, it became sore and I had to have some more treatment. I had to sit out a little bit of practice to rest up. But it's mostly just sore."
He recovered quickly and now appears able to tolerate practice conditions better. He was limited to 12 minutes in the Orange and Blue scrimmage, but he had no ill effects. He is actually finding the longer team practices more enjoyable than the individual and small group workouts.
"I've been doing real good. I'm doing well in the drills, I just have to get used to everything. I like it better (than individual workouts) because I get to work with the whole team. Individuals is more shooting and getting back in shape. Now, we're getting back to plays and all that."
The slender 6'-5", 185 pounder already has advanced offensive skills. It is defense that is most new to him.
"I've been working on my defense alot. That's the biggest adjustment for me. Fighting through screens, being in the right spot at the right times."
Bertrand played point guard in high school and likes that position, but he is willing to play wherever Coach Bruce Weber needs him.
"I feel most comfortable at the 1. I'm a pretty good ball handler, and I like pushing the ball up the court. I feel I can do that. That's where I played in high school, and I'm pretty comfortable with it.
"I've been playing the wing too in practice. I've been switching off and on between those two. So I'm getting used to that too."
Due to the desire to protect his knee, Bertrand was not allowed to participate in the dunk contest at Illini Madness. He would have been the favorite, so he was understandably disappointed.
"Yeah, but it was still fun to watch and be a part of. I had two dunks in the scrimmage."
Like his fellow freshmen, Bertrand is as dedicated to his schoolwork as to basketball.
"School's been going pretty good. Classes are good. I'm getting all my work done. I've had a lot of papers to do, so that's probably the biggest thing."
Bertrand believes he can help the Illini this year, so he doesn't want to redshirt. He is behind and must be patient about his recovery, but Weber has been impressed with him.
"He's coming along fine. What I like is his toughness. I didn't know how he would react. It's a tough thing for a freshman to miss practice and conditioning. We've told him to sit out, and he said, 'No, I can't miss.' Part of that is the motivation the other freshmen are doing well, and he wants to keep up with them.
"We have now kept him out a practice and a half. There's no sense in hurting it and he can't play the rest of the year or something. I think he's got to be patient with himself too. We're gonna emphasize that to him."