In the grand scheme of things, does Midnight Madness mean anything? Probably not.
It is a marketing ploy to get students excited about the basketball season by allowing the players to show off absurd moves and dunks that likely have no place in a formal Bruce Weber practice.
But Illinois fans did get a pleasant surprise at Midnight Madness in the form of redshirt freshman Joseph Bertrand, who won the knockout and slam dunk contests. While the contests were mostly a dog and pony show, Bertrand – who sat out all of last year with a torn lateral meniscus – flashed the athleticism that helped him win two IHSA Class 3A slam dunk championships as a junior and senior at Sterling high school.
When 7′ tall freshman Meyers Leonard jumped over a walk-on in the final round, the dunk contest seemed to be all but over. In response, Bertrand asked his 6′ 3″ teammate, Richardson, to stand a few feet in front of the basket wearing a Halloween mask to add an inch or two. Bertrand took a running start and leaped over Richardson, securing this year’s Illinois slam dunk title.
More importantly, we learned that Bertrand is finally healthy. Many among the Illini coaching staff consider Bertrand to be one of the most athletic players on the team, and could possibly serve as a backup point guard to Demetri McCamey in the spot that was formerly occupied by Jeff Jordan. Neither Brandon Paul, Richardson or freshman phenom Jereme Richmond possess the ball handling ability that Bertrand does, making him a suitable candidate to run the point.
With so many highly touted recruits and returning veterans, the bench is crowded. Bertrand will likely have to earn his spot. But the first five opponents of the year are soft, and Weber will most likely work in a broad rotation of players. There is a spot for Bertrand and his incredible aerial maneuvers, he just needs to prove it.