Arizona's Steve Bertrand returns, slams Minnesota's Izzy Elkaffas in interview
It would be inaccurate to say that the Ultimate Hoops Arizona community has not been thriving in the first half of 2019. The region ran seven successful leagues in the winter and spring seasons, and the Las Vegas National Tournament saw four teams from Arizona make the semifinals.
Despite the success, one thing was missing on and off the court: the presence of Steve Bertrand.
Before the Tempe Draft Summer season started last week, the last time Bertrand put on an Ultimate Hoops jersey was December 11, 2018. This was in a 116-84 semifinal loss to eventual league (and national) champions X Over, where Bertrand scored zero points in 12 minutes. He had to leave the game due to severe back spasms that ended up putting him in the hospital.
Bertrand has handled injuries throughout his playing career, and this latest battle with back issues put his Ultimate Hoops career at risk.
“We worried he may not play again, period,” Arizona Regional Coordinator, Chris Walker, said.
Bertrand is back after a two-season, seven-month hiatus. He played in his first UH game in 210 days last Tuesday in the Tempe Draft League, and he made playing basketball look like riding a bike.
He put up a triple-double of 11 points, 22 rebounds and 11 assists in an 89-62 win for Simon Says. Bertrand followed that up with a stat line of 23/20/7 with three blocks on Tuesday night in Tempe, but it wasn’t enough to keep Simon Says undefeated, as they lost 70-65.
That gives him an average of 17/21/9 through two games. Those are First Team All-Tempe Draft Team numbers, and possibly MVP numbers, depending on where Simon Says finishes. Even if he ends up with zero official awards at the end of the season, I don’t think anyone will be able to take the Comeback Player of the Year from him (which isn’t an official award in UH leagues, but I’m giving it to him).
Bertrand has had success on the court since coming back, and his trash-talking is back in mid-season form as well. Bertrand has always been willing to stir the pot as a media contributor, and it was on display on Tuesday night. He did a post-game interview with Terry Riley and called out Izzy Elkaffas immediately to boast about Arizona’s showing at the Las Vegas National Tournament, while also giving a shout out to Hall of Fame nominees Brandon Walker, Adam Bickerstaff and possible 2020 nominee Fred Dudley.
“It’s awesome to see him back on the court,” Walker said. “Especially with how big of a part he’s played in UH Arizona, especially in the draft leagues. It feels right to have him back, like we’re whole again.”