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Joseph Bertrand: The Mysterious and the Memorable

The undefinable, the memorable, the enigma.

Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

Joseph Bertrand's career can't be defined through narrative or progression. It's comprised of moments, both out of nowhere and fleeting. Joseph Bertrand's career doesn't make sense.

*****

In the 2009-10 season, Bertrand sat out with a redshirt after undergoing knee surgery in September. He watched his fellow recruiting class--D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul, and Tyler Griffey--play and compete and nearly make the NCAA Tournament. Richardson won Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Paul made his name and developed his reputation, allowing Illini fans some excitement about the future of Illinois' offense. Griffey contributed in spurts. Bertrand just sat there.

The next season came and Bertrand still didn't budge. He sat there, playing in 16 games and scoring only 17 points, scattering garbage time minutes amongst DNPs. In his third (sophomore) season, again, not much changed. For 12 games, he didn't do much. His playing time went up, out of roster necessity, but his influence on the game remained at an approximate zero. Seldom did Bertrand do anything in his first two-and-a-half seasons that drew so much as polite applause.

Then, as quick as a tip-off against Missouri, Joseph Bertrand exploded.

Missouri, then ranked too low at No. 9, touted an array of talent that should have ran and shot past an Illinois team that ended up missing the NIT and firing Bruce Weber. The game should have been a 20 point drubbing. Somehow, it ended up as an Illinois missed opportunity. Joe Bertrand single handedly covered that gap. He was incredible.

He spun through defenders in 1-on-3 and 1-on-4 scenarios. He floated shots over centers and crossed-over quicker guards. He rebounded, he passed, he dunked. He scored 16 points in the second half--19 points in all--on 9-for-9 shooting, and he surmounted a Missouri double digit lead all by himself. For one game, he was the most dynamic college basketball player in the Midwest.

After the 2011 Missouri game, Illinois had a different Joseph Bertrand. His rumored athleticism was now evident on the court with inhuman leaps and finishes. And dunks. Oh, the dunks.

But the progression arrived illogically, and illogically it stayed. Bertrand can't be summed up briefly. A summary would require a some static place within the team where he could be placed. Every other rostered Illini has a reasonable set of expectations, so for them, a brief description is easy.

But Bertrand is never average. He either under performs or plays at the absolute peak of his abilities. His place is a place he's never at.

*****

In the confusion of Joseph Bertrand's career, this senior season makes the least sense of any. His greatest attribute is efficiency, which, coupled with his athleticism, create a killer scorer within 15 feet of the basket. Yet it's that attribute which has betrayed him this year. The shots are still there, open and floated, yet now they rim out. His field goal percentage is the lowest of his career.

His ability to completely and absolutely take over a game hasn't shown up yet this season either, although I look for it every game. When it comes, it's amazing and brief, usually only a minute or two long. But in that minute, he's the best player on the floor, and it isn't close. It's happened for extended periods only twice. Once was the 2011 Missouri game. The other was last season's Georgia Tech game.

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From the wide perspective--from the big picture--Joseph Bertrand is an enigma. He was a part of the 2009 recruiting class, then suddenly on his own. He was quiet, then suddenly dominant. He's hardly noticed, then the star of the show. He's decent and average. Then he's the best. Then it's gone.

Bertrand won't be remembered under a simple summary because wherever you place him, he's not there. He's quietly beneath or loudly jumping over. He'll be remembered for his moments. He'll be remembered for Missouri and Georgia Tech, and the dunks and the layups and the inhuman vertical and Joe Tales.

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He'll be remembered as memorable. Farewell, Joe B.