Spartans' Valentine: 'I will have something to prove'
New York — Denzel Valentine sat at the Grand Hyatt hotel in midtown Manhattan on Wednesday and admitted there was a small level of surprise he was there.
The Michigan State guard, named national player of the year by the Associated Press, always dreamed about playing in the NBA. But as he took part in a media session on the eve of the draft, he was starting to realize how far he’d come from his days as a two-time state champion at Lansing Sexton High to middle-of-the-road recruit for the Spartans to one of the best players in the country who could go in the first round.
“It’s been crazy because you never know what is gonna happen,” Valentine said. “I never thought I’d be here but here I am now. I worked my way to this point.”
He’s been through plenty up to now.
His junior season ended with Michigan State falling short in the Final Four to eventual national champion Duke, a feeling that led to Valentine guaranteeing the Spartans would win the title in 2016.
They looked good for most of last season, winning their first 13 games before winning the Big Ten tournament. Along the way, Valentine suffered a knee injury that forced him to miss three games after arthroscopic surgery.
But he was still the Big Ten player of the year and won his share of national awards. Valentine, however, couldn’t deliver on his promise as Michigan State lost to Middle Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Still, it hardly has slowed him down.
Valentine has been busy, working out for five NBA teams, focusing mainly on those that will draft from Nos. 10-15, the area where he’s expected to be taken. And it has led him to this point.
“It’s kind of like when you go to bed at night and you lay down and think about it and it’s a good feeling,” Valentine said. “Everybody doesn’t get this feeling, and to be in the NBA draft and be invited to the green room is a huge honor.
“I’ve done things in college, developed into a guy … everybody has their own mock draft and opinion and all I know is I’m ready. I’m looking forward to the summer league and will have something to prove and I’ll always play with a chip on my shoulder.”
That drive rarely has been questioned, as Valentine’s winning attitude and work ethic have been lauded heading into the draft. What has been questioned — aside from his athleticism and potential defensive deficiencies — is the health of his knees. He injured his right knee last season, the left his senior year of high school.
Valentine, however, is having a hard time understanding the questions.
“It really does surprise me,” Valentine said. “I’m healthy now and only missed four games in college. I can count on both hands the number of practices I missed. It’s really surprising and it’s funny to me. I’m healthy now and only getting better.”
How much the knee affects his draft status remains to be seen, but it’s something that won’t be a concern for his teammate, Deyonta Davis.
The 6-foot-10 forward who played one season at Michigan State is excited to find out where he’s going, likely somewhere in the top 15.
He said the decision to leave Michigan State ended up being a simple one, saying, “I had all the support I needed.”
Davis said he didn’t think much about leaving during the season, but the feedback he received in early April clinched the outcome.
“I’m excited but at the same time I’m just waiting,” Davis said. “Whoever picks me, it will be the right choice.”