SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – In a battle against two elite prospects on a powerhouse program, Vermont Academy’s Tyler Bertram wasn’t remotely scared of the moment.
The 2019 point guard with a few offers from some small schools sees big potential for himself and wanted to make it clear to the top college coaches in attendance that he is not to be slept on. So with Vermont down seven and just three minutes left, he decided to take over.
He buried a crucial three, starting the process of slowly chipping away at IMG’s lead despite Anfernee Simons and Eric Ayala holding up their end of the bargain on the other end. The next play, he attacked the lane and saw his layup spiked out of bounds by IMG’s imposing center Simeon Kirkland. This would make most scrawny guards with a few offers think twice the next play, but not Bertram.
“The big guys don’t really scare me. I’m used to going against Simi [Shittu] in practice, so I’m used to that and I just want to attack and try to get fouls and get to the free throw line.”
So with all those practices going up against the highly-ranked Vanderbilt commit Shittu in the back of his head, he came out on the next play and turned the game around. When IMG tried to blitz him on the pick-and-roll, he deftly slipped through the trap. As the crowd began to swell, he saw Kirkland step in front of him once again. This time, he took Kirkland head on, finishing the and-one layup with heavy contact.
“I just came off the screen and I wanted to see if he was going to drag out,” Bertram told USA Today. “When we watch film, during all the film plays, he would come out and hedge hard. So I knew he was going to come out high and when he came out, I split it and I knew I could get the foul on the big guy. So once I did that, the momentum shifted a lot. I just wanted to get to the line and get it going.”
Bertram knew he could expose their high trapping after he established himself as a three-point threat earlier, trying to take advantage of however IMG defended him.
“Definitely. That’s what a lot of people have been doing,” Bertram said. “I just took what they gave me. Whatever they gave me, I just took it.”
IMG’s Eric Ayala kept trying to run away with it, but Bertram wouldn’t let it go. He buried a three, pulled off a nice pocket pass after a miss to set up big man Daniel Schreier to get to the line and then grabbed on offensive rebound to find Vermont’s sniper Symir Torrence for three to make it an 80-78 game with 12 seconds left. Every time Ayala or Simons would make a great play to attack the rim, Bertram would find a way to keep Vermont in it.
With the clock down to just seven seconds Anfernee Simons would get to the line and hit one of two, giving Bertram one last chance. He flew down the floor past three defenders and threw up a contested running three. The ball looked like it was destined to fall, but hit the rim a bit too hard and popped out. IMG survived 81-78.
“It was pretty. I thought it was going in. I really did, Bertram said. “I thought it was perfect, it was just a little too short.”
He may have come up short in the end, but he undoubtedly made a strong impression on the likes of John Calipari, Patrick Ewing and a slew of other powerhouse college coaches sitting under the basket for this game. He has offers from St. Joseph’s and Siena already, which he greatly appreciates, but he still has the highest aspirations.
“I want to play at the high major level, so hopefully I opened a lot of eyes and got more interest.”