Denzel Valentine

Denzel Valentine is the piece that brings Michigan State together

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From Nov. 20th thru Dec. 1st, I’ll be on the road, hitting 21 games in 11 days. To follow along and read my stories from the road, click here.

NEW YORK — All of No. 1 Michigan State’s stars were on display this weekend in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center this weekend.

In an 87-76 win over Oklahoma on Saturday night, Keith Appling did his best Shabazz Napier impression, going for 27 points on 10-14 shooting while hitting every big shot down the stretch for the Spartans. If Appling was the closer, Gary Harris was the starter, scoring 14 of his 21 points in the first half to help Michigan State build a lead that grew to 18 points early in the second half. Branden Dawson had his best game of the season, finishing with 18 points and 10 boards, and while Adreian Payne struggled Saturday, he was coming off of a truly dominant performance on Friday night.

Those guys are Tom Izzo’s horses. They are the stars that are going to carry the Spartans through Big Ten play and into the postseason.

But the key to this Michigan State team? The piece that brings it all together? Sophomore Denzel Valentine.

(MORE: Tom Izzo is NOT happy about the new officiating rules)

“He makes things happen,” assistant coach Dane Fife said after the game. “He stirs the pot, he’s a tremendous talent, he guarded 1-through-4 tonight for us. He’s so versatile.”

Valentine is truly one of those guys without a position. He stands about 6-foot-5, with the ability to handle the ball and range out to the three-point line. But he’s also got long arms and huge hands, which, when combined with his lower-body strength, allow him to defend power forwards and rebound with anyone in the country.

Does that remind you of someone? Draymond Green maybe? That’s the role he fills on this team. Green was an all-american, however, and Valentine is more of a glue guy, but his importance to the team should not be underrated.

Perhaps Valentine’s most valuable trait is his ability to distribute the basketball. He finished with five assists, to go along with seven points and six boards on Saturday, and he’s now got 18 assists in five games this season. What that does is take some of the pressure off of Keith Appling, who has never been a pure point guard. It allows him to worry less about creating for his teammates and focus a bit more on what he does best: scoring.

“I think it takes the heat off Keith,” Fife said of Valentine’s passing ability. “It prevents the defense from totally focusing from a guard perspective on Keith. [Denzel’s] one of the best at getting guys easy shots.”

“I just try to come in and do all the little things,” Valentine said. “Get rebounds, score when the opportunity is needed, pass the ball, distribute to teammates. That’s what I can do.”

If there is a concern, it’s that Valentine can get a bit wild offensively. He has a tendency to force some passes and get a little loose with where he’s throwing the ball, but according to Fife, that’s not something the coaching staff wants to take away. A turnover is tolerable when it means that he’ll stay aggressive.

On Saturday, he was plenty aggressive. In fact, he was the guy that changed the course of the game. Oklahoma jumped all over the Spartans to start the game. Midway through the first half, the Sooners had taken a 22-11 lead, as it took the Spartans a few minutes to wake up on a chilly Brooklyn night.

“They came out and just punched us. It was great. I loved it,” Izzo said. “You gotta give us some credit for responding, but we’re a little too much pretty boy right now. That’s the one thing, you start winning shooting a bunch of threes and you start scoring in the 90s, you forget that you’re going to win championships by getting your nose bloodied.”

Valentine, and backup point guard Travis Trice, were the guys that started bloodying noses when they entered the game, sparking a 34-9 run to close the half. Michigan State pushed that lead to 18 points early in the second half, and while Oklahoma made their run in the second half, throwing a press at Michigan State that got the lead down to four at one point, the Spartans were too much.

Valentine won’t get the credit, Appling will.

But the role he played, the one he will play all season long, was just as important.

He’s not perfect, however.

“He’s the worst dancer I’ve ever seen,” Fife said.

Oregon lands Georgetown transfer Paul White

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 19: Paul White #13 of the Georgetown Hoyas fights for position with Drew Brandon #22 of the Eastern Washington Eagles in the second half during the second round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Moda Center on March 19, 2015 in Portland, Oregon.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Oregon pulled in a former highly-touted recruit via transfer on Wednesday as Paul White committed to the Ducks.

Spending his first two seasons at Georgetown, White battled injury problems as he only registered 67 total minutes last season during his sophomore year. As a freshman, the 6-foot-8 native of Chicago averaged 5.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game.

A skilled wing forward who can handle the ball a bit, White is a good passer from the elbows and also isn’t afraid to help a bit on the glass. Offensively, White will have to figure out his calling as a scorer, but he’s versatile enough of an offensive players to get others involved while he’s on the floor.

Formerly the No. 50 overall recruit in the Class of 2014, White will have to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules.

Oregon has had a lot of success with transfers under head coach Dana Altman, but it will be interesting to see how White looks when he’s able to play. With basically two full seasons off between competitive games, we’ll have to see how White looks, or if he’s added to his game, when he’s able to take the floor in 2017-18.

VIDEO: Dennis Smith Jr. dunks on N.C. State students

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Last week, it was North Carolina freshman Seventh Woods dunking on a crowd of his classmates late at night.

This week, it’s Dennis Smith Jr., the uber-athletic redshirt freshman for N.C. State.

Rutgers’ twitter ‘gaffe’ is a pretty standard recruiting technique

Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell  congratulates guard Roland Nyama (24) after a play during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Vanderbilt on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
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Rutgers has been the butt of quite a few jokes on social media the last 24 hours, as the school’s official men’s basketball twitter account posted the following picture late on Tuesday night:

That’s an image of six UConn grads and two Pitt grads with the title “$1.1 billion earned”, which, on the surface, doesn’t really make any sense, right? Those eight guys — names like Shabazz Napier and Ray Allen and Steven Adams and Rip Hamilton — have no connection to the Scarlet Knights beyond the occasional beating back when they were still in college.

It’s the Rutgers coaching staff that has a connection to them.

New head coach Steve Pikiell, who was hired from Stony Brook less than six months ago, used to be on the UConn staff. Karl Hobbs, who was an assistant at UConn for both Jim Calhoun and Kevin Ollie, joined Pikiell. Another assistant coach, Brandin Knight, a former star player at Pitt, was on Jamie Dixon’s staff with the Panthers last season.

None of those guys have coached a single Rutgers player yet.

And they won’t for another month, when practice finally starts.

So what do they have to pitch to recruits? How can they market the Rutgers program? How do they make it appealing to the loads of talent playing basketball in New Jersey high schools? By selling kids on what these coaches were able to accomplish with the players they actually have worked with, the stars from their former schools. If you don’t think that is what Rutgers’ new staff — or any new staff, for that matter — is using as a recruiting pitch then you don’t know a damn thing about recruiting.

Or Rutgers.

The program has no basketball history worth mentioning. None. But neither did SMU when Larry Brown took over, and he turned the Mustangs into a program perennially in or around the top 25 that literally beat out Kentucky for a recruit (Emmanuel Mudiay).

Do you think that Brown was selling players on SMU’s past or his past? Did he say “Come hoop at a football school in a football state” or did he brag about coaching Allen Iverson and the rings he won with Kansas in 1988 and Detroit in 2004?

The bottom line is this: The tweet missed its mark, highlighting player earnings over professional success, and the responses to it have been pretty hilarious.

But I also find it funny that people are up in arms about Rutgers promoting the players their brand new coaching staff has worked with, because if you don’t think that Jim Fox uses Steph Curry to recruit to Appalachian State or Rick Barnes references Kevin Durant in his pitches to Tennessee targets, I have a bridge in Brooklyn you can buy.

VIDEO: Western Michigan walk-on gets scholarship atop Eiffel Tower

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Yesterday, we brought you a video of South Dakota’s Logan Power, a walk-on heading into his third season in the program, receiving his scholarship while on the team’s trip to Spain.

Today, we have video of Western Michigan walk-on Ryan Wade getting a scholarship … at the top of the Eiffel Tower?

In a really cool moment, Steve Hawkins, WMU’s head coach, asks two players to try and read a piece of paper in French. He then has Wade read the translation of what the players were saying and … well … just watch:

What a cool moment.

If only there was a camera on the French people watching the crazy Americans sing and jump around a thousand feet in the air …

Former Michigan State star Appling charged in new case

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Photo via Wayne County Prosecutor's Office
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DETROIT (AP) Former Michigan State basketball player Keith Appling has been charged with another weapons violation and other crimes.

Appling was arraigned Tuesday in Detroit on charges including carrying a concealed weapon and fleeing and eluding.

Prosecutors say police stopped Appling Sunday for a suspected traffic violation. Investigators say he offered identification but drove off while an officer had his hand in the window.

It’s Appling’s third encounter with Detroit-area police since spring. Gun charges are pending in two separate cases in Dearborn and Detroit. A bond motion on the other cases is scheduled for Wednesday.

Prosecutors say Appling’s attorney will be Otis Culpepper. The Associated Press called Culpepper but didn’t get an answer.

Appling played for Michigan State from 2010-2014 and had two contracts with the Orlando Magic last season.