Denzel Valentine didn’t have to go far to start his college career, just slightly east. In fact, the Lansing, Michigan native pretty much grew up with Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans in his backyard.
So when Valentine committed to MSU and joined the program three years ago it made sense and the hometown boy hasn’t turned back since. So far in his junior season, he’s helped lead the Spartans through a season filled with ups and downs. MSU may have 10 losses, but most of them came in close contests – four were in overtime and all but two were by a deficit of seven points or less.
As the Spartans, who finished 23-11 overall, 12-6 in the Big Ten and conference tournament runners-up behind Wisconsin, and earned a selection committee bid as the No. 7 seed in the East region bracket, prepare for March Madness, here’s what you need to know about Denzel Valentine:
1. Valentine Is a Julius Erving Award Finalist
A year removed from when he was the only player in the Big Ten to rank in the top 15 in both rebounding – tied for 11th – and assists – 8th, the 6-foot-5 junior guard for the Spartans has continued to gain traction in both the Big Ten conference and nationwide.
Valentine is averaging 14.5 points, 6.2 boards and 4.4 assists per game. He ranks 12th in the Big Ten for scoring, 13th in rebounding, eighth in assists, seventh in 3-point field goal percentage and second in 3-pointers made – averaging 2.6 per game.
And his performance so far in the 2014-15 season have earned Valentine a spot on the list of candidates for the first-ever Julius Erving Award.
And according to HoopHall.com, Erving was honored to have an award specifically for small forwards in the game. Erving said:
I would like to thank the Basketball Hall of Fame for recognizing these hardworking young men and allowing me to be a part of the process. To be the best small forward in college basketball, you have to work tirelessly and I believe the players on this list have shown that level of dedication.
Valentine joins others such as teammate Branden Dawson, Arizona’s Stanley Johnson, Duke’s Justise Winslow, Virginia’s Justin Anderson and VCU’s Treveon Graham.
2. Valentine Is a Two-Time State Champion
Valentine played high school hoops at Lansing Sexton High under head coach Carlton Valentine – yes, it’s his father. During his career, Lansing Sexton made three state championship runs – coming away with the 2011 and 2012 state titles.
As a sophomore, Valentine averaged 10.9 points, 5.8 assists and 6.3 rebounds, was named 2010 Class B honorable mention all-state and helped the Big Reds to close out the year as the state runner-up.
In his junior campaign, Valentine averaged 12.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 5.4 steals and 1.1 blocks. He was selected to the 2011 First-Team All-State Class B selection and helped lead Lansing Sexton to the school’s first state title in 51 years.
And following his second straight state title, Valentine was named as the 2012 Lansing State Journal Player of the Year, Associated Press Class B Player of the Year and finished second in the voting for the Hal Schram Mr. Basketball Award. As a senior, the Big Reds finished 27-1 and Valentine nearly averaged a triple-double – 14 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists per game.
Valentine was ranked among the top 100 players in the nation – No. 81 by Rivals and No. 98 by ESPN.
3. Valentine’s Dad Played at Michigan State
When Valentine stepped on the hardwood at MSU to play for the Spartans, he was the second in his family to do so.
His father Carlton, 48, was a four-year letter winner on the Michigan State basketball team in the mid to late 1980s. During his playing career, the 6-foot-5 player from Washington D.C. was one of the team leaders in points and rebounds.
While his playing career may have ended, Carlton kept basketball very much alive in his life. Not only did he have his two sons – Denzel and his older brother Drew – but he also started coaching at Lansing Sexton High School in the 2006-07 season. He led the Big Reds to much success including the back-to-back state championships in 2011 and 2012 when Denzel was a pivotal player on the team. He resigned following the 2013 season to have more time to watch Denzel play at MSU, but returned to coach this season after the high school fired the coach that took over for the 2013-14 season.
4. Valentine’s Older Brother Is the MSU Basketball Grad Assistant Coach
The Valentine legacy at MSU continued once again when Denzel’s older brother Drew joined the program as a graduate assistant/manager in 2013. Like his father and younger brother, Drew stands 6-foot-5 and played ball at the collegiate level.
Drew went to Oakland University where he played forward for the Golden Grizzlies. During his career he played in 136 games, which is the second-most in program history, and averaged 10.5 points and 6.5 rebounds while playing with a torn meniscus, according to his father. Drew and Denzel also went head-to-head in the 2012-13 season where MSU came out on top, 70-52.
And despite receiving offers from various professional teams overseas, Drew decided to stay in the states and work towards his dream of becoming a Division I college basketball coach.
5. Valentine Has NBA Draft Potential
Although Valentine hasn’t quite broken into the top selections of the 2015 NBA Draft projections, his name is still recognized. According to DraftExpress, Valentine is ranked No. 48 among NCAA juniors. He sits in between Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon and North Carolina’s Joel James.