Joseph Bertrand started a Twitter account (@iJoeTales) Thursday at the urging of teammate and good friend Brandon Paul. At the time of this post, roughly 18 hours after Bertrand joined the social networking site, he had picked up 2,904 followers.
Bertrand is as popular has he’s ever been and his growth this season as a player is a big reason why.
The 6-foot-6 swingman’s energy off the bench against Gardner-Webb when the rest of his teammates seemed to be lying on a beach somewhere in Hawaii rescued the Illini from a bad loss.
And his 10-0 personal run in the second half when the Yellow Jackets had the Illini on the ropes in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge might have been the highlight of the season, high acrobatic layup earning Bertrand a place on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays at No. 3 Wednesday night.
The Illini have seen Bertrand do these things in practice since he arrived as part of the heralded 2009 recruiting class with Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tyler Griffey. The rest of the country is taking note now, too.
“He brings a real energy off the bench, great athlete. He’s just streaky enough to be dangerous. He’s playing with a lot of freedom and confidence right now,” Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said. “I think early in his career he was just an athletic slasher and obviously he spent a lot of time working on his perimeter shooting and so forth. He’s just streaky enough right now to be dangerous and if he gets really consistent, then he’s going to be another quality (player).”
For the early part of his career, Bertrand was known as a slasher, a guy who could get in the lane and get off shots. In 32 games last season, Bertrand made three of 10 attempted three-pointers.
Through eight games this season, Bertrand has made 8 for 18 (44 percent).
“This summer, (the coaches) had us shooting a lot of threes, everyone had to make 11,000 or more and we answered the challenge,” Bertrand said. “It really helped my shooting, skill development. They had me working on a lot of different threes, step-back threes, off the dribble, it really helped my confidence. I’m looking to shoot a lot more this year I was driving a lot more last year, I’m trying to incorporate both this year.”
Other notes from Wednesday’s win against Georgia Tech
— After Wednesday, Illinois was the only team in the country that had played eight games.
“The good news on that is we’ve had a chance to learn a lot and play against a lot of different styles. It’s give us a chance to acquire that knowledge early and work on some things heading to our next game to make our team better.
— In addition to coaching, John Groce will act as the crowd’s hype man from time to time. He waved his arms a few times to get the Assembly Hall fans on their feet.
“I don’t do that a whole lot with the crowd, I just thought it was a heck of a play and we needed them,” Groce said. “We take pride in having one of the top home-court venues in all of college basketball and at that point in time, I thought we needed that. That picks our guys up, that makes a huge difference. The energy level in the building goes up a notch or two and these guys need that. That’s the type of atmosphere we want here at home.”
— Bertrand will go for a heat check.
“When Joe came out and hit those couple of threes, I saw the confidence in his eyes. Once I saw that, I had to give it right back to him because I knew he was going to shoot it because he had made two in a row. He had that one loopy-loop ridiculous layup that you’re probably going to see on “SportsCenter”. Me and Tyler were laughing. We see that stuff in practice every day, that doesn’t shock us at all.
— Devin Langford is making strides.
“He’s come such a long way. First week of practice he turned the ball over, he gambled,” Groce said. “He’s really working hard to learn our system and he’s getting better. I told him the other day I think he’s getting better. I had confidence to put him in and he delivered. Defensively, he was active, got his hands on the ball, he rebounded it, defended, rotated well, took care of the ball. His minutes were huge when we were in foul trouble.”
— Illinois is not going to stop shooting so many threes.
“We’re going to continue to take the ones that present themselves, we’ve got a good-shooting team. I think we’d be foolish not to do that,” Groce said.
—That defense where the Illini aren’t guarding a particular guy, that’s called a zone.
“We felt like it could be something that could be good this game,” Groce said. “I knew we would have it in our back pocket. I knew we would use it some for sure, just wasn’t sure how much. We chart how many possessions we’re playing it and how many points they score against it. I’m a numbers guy and the numbers continued to add up to keep playing it, so we kept playing it.”