Bertrands big night garners national attention

952085.png

Bertrands big night garners national attention

For a brief moment in time, Joseph Bertrand the quiet, 6' 6' guard from Sterling, Illinois had the nation in awe.

For a brief moment on Wednesday night, Joseph Bertrand was trending nationally on Twitter.

Bertrand exploded midway through the second half of Illinois clash with Georgia Tech in the ACCBig Ten Challenge. He created a 10-0 run on his own that vaulted Illinois to the lead and an eventual, 75-62 win.

After the game, Bertrand did not emote much and stayed quiet during the press conference. Though he stepped up for his team on Wednesday night, he let those around him step up and brag.

Joe always competes, Illinois coach John Groce said. Until you get to know him he comes off as a quiet guy, but he has big time energy. I very rarely watch practice or game film and say Bertrands not competing. Tonight he competed.

Joes work ethic speaks for itself. He comes to the gym everyday and plays hard, senior Brandon Paul said. He wanted to extend his game in the offseason and hes done that with help from coaches.

The redshirt junior really extended his play against Georgia Tech. He tied for the team lead in scoring with 15 and added three rebounds, an assist and a steal for Illinois.

His most spectacular moment came at the tail end of his 10-0 run, when he hit an off-balance shot while being fouled. Paul said the shot is a common practice occurrence for Bertrand, but he was glad to see it happen on a national stage.

That loop-de-loop, ridiculous play youll probably see on Sportscenter, he said.

So far this season Bertrand has been one of the first off the bench, but has yet to start. In the Illinis last few games, he has elevated his status to something like a super sub.

Against Chaminade, in the Maui Invitational semifinal, Bertrand scored 14 and grabbed six rebounds. He matched that rebounding total last Sunday, against Gardner-Webb, and put up another 13 points to help his team win a squeaker.

Bertrand credits his improvement to offseason conditioning under the new coaches. Specifically, the 11,000 free throws Groce & Co. asked players to make during summer workouts.

That really helped my shooting and skill developmentreally helped my confidence, Bertrand said. Im looking to shoot a lot more threes this year. I was driving a lot last year and Im doing both this year.

The change has been obvious, and Yellow Jackets coach Brian Gregory added his praise for the juniors improvement.

Obviously hes spent a lot of time working on his perimeter shooting, he said. You can see the package he brings to the table, thats really starting to develop.

Whether Bertrand remains Illinois super sub or begins to get some starting minutes, Groce is overjoyed to have him as a part of a group of upperclassmen that has been outstanding in the early stages of the season.

Im the luckiest guy in the world because Ive got older guys who care about the game, care about the team, the Illini coach said.

The consummate pro: How Taj Gibson has become the Bulls' version of Udonis Haslem

15494063_10154553009606858_998332033_n.jpg
USA TODAY

The consummate pro: How Taj Gibson has become the Bulls' version of Udonis Haslem

The 2011 Eastern Conference Finals between the Bulls and Miami Heat featured three future Hall of Famers in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Derrick Rose had been named the youngest league MVP in league history weeks earlier. Luol Deng was blossoming and would earn All-Star nods in each of the following two seasons. $82 million man Carlos Boozer had averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 rebounds in his first season with the Bulls. The series was loaded with star power.

But buried deep in that series was a matchup of unsung reserves that influenced the series far greater than their numbers in the box score indicated. Udonis Haslem averaged just 4.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 22 minutes in the series – the Heat won in five games – but his impact was felt nonetheless, in part because of the physicality he brought against an energetic second-year forward named Taj Gibson.

“When we played them in the Eastern Conference Finals, Gibson had an incredible impact on that series, and (Haslem) was just coming back from an injury,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said before Saturday’s tilt between the Bulls and Heat. “And we thought that was probably the missing component in that series early on, was having a player like UD to match up against (Gibson). And that really helped us close that series.”

Five years later Haslem is on the final leg of his NBA career. He’s only appeared sparingly in seven games for the Heat in this his 14th NBA season. But the two-time NBA champion has had a lasting impact on the Heat organization – so much so that they allowed him to miss Friday’s game to attend his son’s state-title football game in Florida – and has etched himself in Heat lore, despite never averaging more than 12 points or nine rebounds in a season.

It’s not unlike the career path Gibson has taken in his eight seasons in Chicago. The now-31-year-old Gibson has spent the majority of his career playing behind the likes of Carlos Boozer, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah. And while he’s been an integral part of the Bulls’ rotation since joining the team in 2009, his role has never matched his ability or production. It’s why Haslem said he sees so much of himself in Gibson, an unselfish, care-free teammate, yet also someone who is willing to work every day despite the lack of accolades.

“Taj plays hard, man. He’s a guy that gets all the dirty work done. The banging down in the paint, he knocks down that 15-footer, (he) rebounds,” Haslem told CSNChicago.com. “A lot of similarities to myself when I was a little younger. Like you said, unsung. Doesn’t look for any attention, doesn’t look for any glory. Just goes out there, is professional, and does his job every night.”

And in his eighth NBA season, Gibson has done his job every night incredibly well. Through 23 games he’s posted career-best numbers in field goal percentage, rebounds, assists and steals, and isn’t far off in points and blocks per game. His 16.9 PER would be a career-high.

He’s done all this with little real estate in the spotlight. Jimmy Butler has cemented himself as a legitimate MVP candidate, and free-agent acquisitions Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo have earned headlines.

But Gibson has been as reliable and consistent a frontcourt player as the Bulls have – he’s one of three players to have appeared in all 23 games this season – and he’s playing some of his best basketball while the Bulls are mired in a mini-slump.

“He’s a rock for us on this team,” Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s going to go out and do his job. He’s never going to complain about his role. He’s going to put on his hard hat and make the little plays that may not show up in the box score, but help you win.”

Including Gibson’s 13-point, seven-rebound effort in Saturday’s win over the Heat, he’s averaging 12.6 points on 58 percent shooting and 7.3 rebounds in the Bulls’ last 11 games. He’s corralled 16 offensive rebounds in that span – including two on Saturday that he put back for layups – and is the main reason the Bulls entered as the league’s top offensive rebounding team in the league (and second in total rebound percentage). The Bulls are also nearly six points per 100 possessions better defensively with Gibson on the floor.

Gibson’s and Haslem’s career numbers are eerily similar – Gibson has averaged 9.3 points on 49 percent shooting and 6.4 rebounds, compared to Haslem’s 7.9 points on 49 percent shooting and 7.0 rebounds, with this year excluded. And both players accomplished their numbers while acting as the third scoring option, at best, on their respective teams. Wade, who spent 13 seasons with Haslem, also sees similarities in the two forward’s games and personalities.

“Taj does his job. He doesn’t try to do too much. Some nights he’s featured a lot. Some nights he’s not. He’s out there to do his job, wants to win,” he said. “(Haslem and Gibson) are very similar. He has that mentality where he’s a workhorse and he’s going to do whatever it takes.”

Added Spoelstra: “Incredible amount of similar qualities. In my mind both those guys are winning players and have all the intangibles and toughness. Doing the little things, the dirty work, both those guys embody all those qualities. We’ve always respected Gibson because of that.”

Gibson is third on the Bulls in field goal attempts per game, the first time in his career he’s been higher than fifth in that category. The Bulls are using him more than ever before, and it’s paying off. He's in the final year of his four-year contract with the Bulls, and is looking at a significant pay raise in free agency this coming summer. Whether his future is in Chicago or elsewhere, don’t expect him to change his persona or mentality anytime soon. Much like Haslem did for years in Miami, Gibson has defined being a consummate professional, teammate and player.

“When you’re on championship teams, competing for a championship, trying to go deep in the playoffs, trying to do special things, guys are doing to have to sacrifice their game. Everybody can’t play big minutes; everybody can’t take the shots,” he said after the Bulls’ win over the Cavs on Thursday. “I’m one of the guys that sacrificed my game for the good of the team. Whatever the coach wants me to do, I’m going to go out and do (it).

“If a coach wants me to set 100 screens and not take a shot, I’m gonna do that because I’m about helping the team. And that’s what I’ve been doing all these years. As long as I’m out there enjoying myself, having fun and playing with great teammates, I’m blessed.”

Morning Update: Bulls take down Heat for second time this season

morning_update_pic.jpg
USA TODAY

Morning Update: Bulls take down Heat for second time this season

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks square off with Stars tonight on CSN

Complete Bears-Lions coverage on CSN

Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade lift Bulls to win over pesky Heat

Brent Seabrook could return, but Jonathan Toews will miss ninth straight when Blackhawks play Stars

Three Bears necessities to lay a broom on the Lions

The consummate pro: How Taj Gibson has become the Bulls' version of Udonis Haslem

Bill Dineen, father of Blackhawks assistant coach Kevin Dineen, passes away

Tracy Abrams pours in career-high 31 points as Illini cruise past Central Michigan

Cincinnati hires Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell as new head coach