Denzel Valentine

Denzel Valentine is the piece that brings Michigan State together



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.

Florida freshman will miss the season with stress fracture

GAINESVILLE, FL - JANUARY 19: Head coach Mike White of the Florida Gators gestures during the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on January 19, 2016 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Florida freshman forward Dontay Bassett is out for the season with a stress fracture, according to a release from the school.

Bassett will require surgery in his right foot and his projected recovery time will be four-to-six months. The injury will force Bassett to redshirt the 2016-17 season.

A three-star recruit coming out of Oldsmar Christian in Florida, the 6-foot-9 forward wasn’t expected to be a big contributor during his first year with the Gators, but his loss does hurt some of the team’s frontcourt depth. With John Egbunu, Devin Robinson, Justin Leon and Kevarrius Hayes all returning, the Gators should have plenty of players to use in the frontcourt this season without Bassett.

Once Bassett is healthy and able to play next season he showed good athleticism and an ability to hit the glass hard while he was in high school. Bassett should be able to join Florida’s rotation as an energy defender and rebounder right away.

Iowa State lands four-star Class of 2017 guard Lindell Wigginton

GREENVILLE, SC- July 9, 2016:  adidas Gauntlet Finale at Upward Stars Center (Jeff Hinds/adidas)
GREENVILLE, SC- July 7, 2016:  adidas Gauntlet Finale at Upward Stars Center (Jeff Hinds/adidas)
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Iowa State has its point guard of the future as four-star Class of 2017 prospect Lindell Wigginton pledged to the Cyclones on Friday.

The 6-foot-1 Wigginton is regarded as the No. 40 overall prospect on as the Canadian has spent the last few seasons at powerhouse Oak Hill Academy. With an ability to play both guard spots and defend a few spots, Wigginton is a valuable addition to head coach Steve Prohm’s ballclub as Wigginton could help replace Monte Morris after he exhausts his eligibility.

Wigginton is going to need to improve his consistency on his perimeter jumper, but he’s a good pull-up scorer who can make plays for himself or others off the bounce. Iowa State’s Class of 2017 recruiting haul now includes Wigginton, four-star wing Terrence Lewis and three-star guard Darius McNeill.

This commitment is huge for Prohm as Wigginton is the most highly-regarded recruit that he has landed with the Cyclones. With Prohm’s point guard history with guys like Isaiah Canaan at Murray State and Monte Morris now with Iowa State, Prohm did a nice job of finding his next young guard to mold for the future.

Davidson star Jack Gibbs to miss a few weeks with shoulder injury

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 11:  Jack Gibbs #12 of the Davidson Wildcats celebrates a basket against the St. Bonaventure Bonnies during the Quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Basketball Tournament at the Barclays Center on March 11, 2016 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Davidson senior guard Jack Gibbs is one of the most under-the-radar players in college basketball as he will be among the nation’s leading offensive threats this season if he’s healthy.

But health is going to be a question for the 6-foot-1 guard as Gibbs is dealing with a shoulder injury that will sideline him for 2-to-3 weeks, according to head coach Bob McKillop. McKillop told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman that tests came back negative for Gibbs and he’s expected to be back for the Wildcats’ season-opener. The injury for Gibbs occurred during Thursday’s Davidson practice.

As a junior, Gibbs averaged 23.5 points, 4.9 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game as he became one of the nation’s premier offensive players.  Gibbs is going to be a huge key for Davidson this season as he needs to be healthy in order for the Wildcats to make it back to the NCAA tournament.


VIDEO: Dennis Smith Jr. electrifies N.C. State fans at team’s scrimmage

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N.C. State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. excited fans with some absurd plays at the team’s Primetime with the Pack event last night.

The highly-touted, five-star prospect is the most electric prospect to come to the Wolfpack in years and Smith had the crowd buzzing with some highlight-reel dunks during the team’s 20-minute scrimmage.

Smith made one teammate look silly by putting it between his legs and throwing down a vicious dunk during one play while he also threw an alley-oop to himself to finish another break.

(h/t: Ball is Life)

VIDEO: Kentucky freshman Malik Monk throws down vicious dunks during scrimmage

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 15:  West Team MVP Malik Monk (L) (Bentonville, AR) in action during the 15th iteration of the Jordan Brand Classic at Barclays Center on April 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Jordan Brand )
(Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Jordan Brand )
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Kentucky freshman guard Malik Monk is going to be one of the newcomers to keep an eye on this season as the 6-foot-3 Arkansas native is an explosive scorer who packs vicious athleticism.

Monk showed Big Blue Nation some of what they can expect to see during Friday night’s Blue/White Scrimmage as he unleashed a ferocious dunk in some traffic and also had another good dunk in transition. While Monk has great lift off the floor, he also isn’t afraid to cock the ball back and put some authority on his dunks. He’s going to be a ton of fun to watch this season.