Bertrand creating #JoeTales on, off court

December, 21, 2012
12/21/12
4:23
PM CT
Joseph BertrandJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesIllinois' Joseph Bertrand is averaging 8.6 points in 21 minutes a game.
Brandon Paul has achieved plenty in his Illinois career, and he's likely to accomplish even more.

But when Paul's four years are up and he measures all he did at Illinois, one of his favorite memories will come from something he did off the court, not on it. For Paul is the creator of #JoeTales.

JoeTales are real-life stories about Illinois redshirt junior guard Joseph Bertrand. Paul found some of his experiences with his close friend too funny to keep to himself, so he began putting them on Twitter and included them with the now well-known hashtag.

"Just everyone tells stories about how he acts funny,"said Paul, whose Twitter bio includes being the creator of #JoeTales. "I came up with the name and made the hashtag. A funny one would be when we were walking on the sidewalk, and we were trying to avoid a sprinkler. I avoided it, but it got on his leg. He got mad, took it and threw it and it landed upside down. He felt like he got revenge."

There's the #JoeTales' story of how Bertrand was playing basketball with a group of children at the Illini's practice facility and swatted a kid who thought he had a wide-open layup. There was the time when someone asked Bertrand why he wasn't on Twitter, and he said he got nervous when people followed him.

Bertrand has laughed along with Paul and everyone else who now tweets #JoeTales. Bertrand has even created his own Twitter account after years of reluctance and named it @iJoeTales.

Bertrand's favorite story of himself came when a vending machine failed to produce his item, so he took action.

"It didn't give me a pop," Bertrand said. "I felt I had been cheated, so I had to unplug it. It's stuff like that."

Bertrand doesn't mind entertaining Illinois' fans with his exploits, but it still pleases him more to give them a reason to cheer while he's on the court.

Bertrand has had to be patient for the latter. His Illini career began with a series of injuries. He had surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee in September of 2010 and then tore a calf muscle in January of 2011. He redshirted his first year and has had a long road back to the form which made him a high school star at Sterling High School (Ill.) and the Illinois Wolves club program.

Bertrand barely saw the floor as a redshirt freshman and averaged 3.3 minutes in 15 games. What also didn't help was his friends Paul and D.J. Richardson, who were in his recruiting class, had become key players.

"It was kind of hard to sit and watch everyone else play,"Bertrand said.

Last season, Bertrand started receiving his first real opportunities to contribute as well, and he took full advantage. Showing off his ability to drive and stay under control at all speeds, the 6-foot-6 Bertrand became a scoring threat for the Illini. He had 11 games of double digits and had a career-high 25 points against Nebraska.

While Bertrand was sad to see coach Bruce Weber go after last season, Bertrand's game has been a perfect fit for new coach John Groce's fast-paced offense. Bertrand is averaging a career-high 8.6 points and 21 minutes for the undefeated Illini. He's also shown an ability to step outside and has more 3-pointers this season (11) than he had his first two years (3).

"What's impressed me is his ability to come off the bench and be an impact guy,"said Illinois assistant coach Paris Parham, who works individually with Bertrand. "He's making shots. He's putting up numbers that are usually starters' numbers.

"Playing for coach Groce is the perfect style for Joe's style of play. I think coach Groce is a big-time players' coach. He gives the guys a lot of freedom. I don't think Joe was allowed to shoot 3s last year. It's helped his dribble-drive game."

Bertrand's rise in the past two years has especially lifted the spirits of his mother, Lorita Bertrand. Lorita was so worried about her son after his injury-plagued first year that she moved from Sterling to Champaign.

"I needed to be close to him,"Lorita said. "It was hard on him. It was hard on me, too. As a parent, when they're injured and they're that far away, the worry gets magnified.

"All I know is I'm excited for him, so excited for the team. Yeah, Joseph, he's worked very hard. He's come through the injury and pretty much persevered and worked hard to get back in form. I'm just excited and proud of him for waiting his turn and being patient and realizing a good opportunity for him at Illinois."

These days #JoeTales include more than just Bertrand's funniest moments. Paul and Bertrand's fans like to tweet his most athletic moments, too. Among his greatest this season was nearly leaping over a Georgia Tech defender and spinning the ball off the glass into the net while fading out of bounds. He made SportsCenter's Top 10 plays with the move.

"He's just so athletic and talented," Paul said. "He's so skilled with the basketball. You never know what you're going to see."

That also happened to be the case in one of Paul's most unforgettable #JoeTales, which Paul told on a YouTube video because it was too long to share on Twitter.

The story goes: One day after seeing "Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol" with Bertrand, Paul went home and noticed his shoe rack was in disarray and started reorganizing his shoes. He left the room for a minute, returned and found one of Bertrand's shoes on the floor.

Paul was confused and texted Bertrand wondering why his shoe was at his apartment. As Paul waited for a return message, his bed began to shake. Paul looked under his bed, and there was Bertrand looking at him. Paul screamed in laughter.

"He uttered two words before crawling out from under my bed and leaving my apartment," Paul said on the video. "He said, 'Mission completed,' and walked out like nothing happened. I was just sitting there crying. I was dying laughing. And the only thing that popped in my head was ‘JoeTales.' "
Scott Powers is a general reporter for ESPNChicago.com. He is an award-winning journalist and has been reporting on preps, colleges and pros for publications throughout the Midwest since 1997.

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