Illinois freshman Joseph Bertrand needed a chance to get his mind and body acclimated to playing basketball again. Sitting out his first year was tough, so playing four games in Poland helped in several ways.
"I think it was good competition. It was a good experience. I redshirted last year, so it was a good way for me to get back into the game and play against better competition. It was good to play with other college kids, getting to know the way they play."
Bertrand had practiced with the Illini part of the winter and during the spring, but playing an actual game was a pleasant change.
"Yeah, it was very different. The last time I was on the floor was during the Blue and Orange scrimmage game and an exhibition game. It was great to be on the court and get that feeling back, scoring and playing with teammates."
Of course, rust was inevitable.
"Yeah, I had to get my running back. I was getting tired a little bit during the games. It was good to get back into the swing of things. It just felt like normal."
Illinois coach Bruce Weber has mentioned that Bertrand needed a boost of self-confidence. The Poland trip helped with that aspect of his game.
"It helps a lot. I think I played really good down there. It shows me I can play at this level and that I belong here and can contribute out on the court."
It also helped to go through the games without a reminder of his previous knee problems.
"I think I'm totally healthy. After practices I'm still icing it, and I'm always looking to get it stronger. But other than that it hasn't been hurting me."
Weber asked that Bertrand play point in Poland. The Illini have no proven backup to senior point guard Demetri McCamey, so Bertrand is to be groomed for that role.
"Coach wanted me to play point, and I did really good. I had a couple turnovers the second game, but other than that I think I did really good. I mixed in the off guard a little bit, but mostly I played point guard.
"I played point guard in high school. And during practice I did a little off and on between point guard and shooting guard. I'm gonna concentrate more on point guard this year and see what I can do. I played almost every minute, but I know this year I'll be coming off the bench giving Meechie (McCamey) some rest."
Bertrand understands the challenge ahead in becoming adept at point guard.
"It's gonna be a big challenge. Coach is always telling me to work on ball handling and concentrate during the games so I can be ready to go in and contribute and help the team out."
Weber plays the players he trusts. What must he do to earn the coach's trust?
"Everything I can. I know he's a hard coach to get into. He's told us what we have to do. We have to play good in practice and show him that we can be trusted in the games."
Bertrand will need to make some adjustments between now and the start of the season.
"I think my decision-making a lot. I tend to go for what Coach Weber calls the 'home run' plays. I'm gonna try to learn from what Meechie's doing, get better mentally and make better decisions."
Defense is another aspect of play that Bertrand needs to improve.
"Oh yeah, Coach harps on that all the time. That's something we've all got to work on as a team. We're working on man defense a lot. Staying in front of my guy is one thing I've got to get better at."
The basketball in Poland was good for Bertrand. But it took awhile to adapt to the Polish culture and cuisine.
"The culture is much different than here. The food is way different. I think I like American food better. They don't use ice in their drinks, so everything is warm. It was hard to get used to that."
Bertrand got a needed boost of confidence and playing experience on his trip. Now he needs to keep improving day by day so he can help when needed this winter.