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Izzo: NBA teams have nothing to fear about Valentine

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Tom Izzo and Denzel Valentine

East Lansing – Tom Izzo says 19 games and more than a half-season of practices should be enough to convince NBA teams that Denzel Valentine’s knees are sound.

Valentine missed four games his senior season after arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He returned for MSU’s win at Penn State on Jan. 10 and played the balance of the season – including 15 regular-season games, three Big Ten tournament games and one NCAA Tournament game.

He also participated in the NBA draft combine in May without incident. But now there are rumors that an MRI of Valentine’s right knee, taken at the combine, raised a red flag.

Valentine says both knees are in excellent shape.

“Everybody has their own opinion but I played my four years and missed only four games,” Valentine said on WMGC’s “Ryan and Rico Show” on Wednesday. “I know that I’m healthy and medically cleared to go, by multiple doctors.”

Tom Izzo told reporters on Wednesday that Valentine has no medical issues.

"There’s rumors about his (Valentine's) injury and I told somebody this is how bad it is for me: I told some of them (NBA personnel) to talk to our media since they’re at practices,” Izzo said. “There were rumors that he missed half the practices. Other than the two and a half weeks (following surgery), I don’t remember him ever missing a practice. But that’s what happens with social media.”

Valentine and Deyonta Davis, who left MSU after one season, are expected to be selected in the first round Thursday night.

Both were lottery picks in most NBA mock drafts earlier, but Valentine has slipped slightly in recent days, and he could be available when the Pistons select at No. 18.

The Detroit News’ Rod Beard, in his most recent mock draft, published this week, has Davis going to the Suns at No. 13 and Valentine to the Nuggets at No. 19.

Izzo will watch the draft with great interest and just wants his former players to fit in with their new teams.

“I hope both of them go somewhere where needs and wants (match) what they do, especially in Zell’s case, where that high basketball IQ is important,” Izzo said. “The one thing about Denzel that I’ve told everybody – there’s still not many guys in this draft that could play three positions. I think legitimately at the pro level he can play three positions.”

MSU’s Valentine to Pistons? ‘I’d like that’

Davis has impressed NBA teams with his perimeter shooting.

"I told a lot of guys DD has a good-looking shot," Izzo said. "He just needs reps. That's why I thought he'd be a heck of a power forward before he was done (at MSU), so that's not overly surprising.

"I talked to a couple of teams this morning. It's going to be interesting to see what happens. It's a good year from the standpoint of the number of bigs that are out there. There's a lot of them that don't overly impress me, so we'll hope for the best for him."

Valentine (20.5 points, 7.8 assists, 7.5 rebounds) was the AP Player of the Year and Big Ten Player of the Year, helping the Spartans to a 29-6 record and Big Ten title before an opening-round loss to Middle Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament.

Izzo said it wouldn’t hurt Valentine, a Lansing native, to be selected by the Pistons and play in his home state.

“I don’t think there’s any bearing with Denzel because it’s not like he has a posse or that he’s bringing anyone with him,” Izzo said. “Denzel needs to be somewhere that appreciates he can play three positions, that’s going to coach him.

“Some people say you have to get away and some kids do; Denzel Valentine’s not one of them.

“I think there are some (teams) that are better than others for the fact that they are looking for the guy that answers the bell. He plays, and that’s starting to become more important in the NBA as I look around in who is winning and who is not.”

Izzo thinks Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello could join Davis and Valentine as drafted Spartans.

"Bryn and Costello are on some boards," noted Izzo. "They both had 10 to 12 workouts (with NBA teams).

"It’s an exciting time for us and a good time. Three of those four guys worked a lot of years to get in the position they’re in. I’m going to be like a proud dad tomorrow.”