Michigan State’s versatile senior embracing increased responsibilities

Associated Press
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With Travis Trice and Branden Dawson out of eligibility, Michigan State’s summer trip to Italy came at just the right time when it comes to accounting for those departures. And while sophomore Tum Tum Nairn, who played well in four games against increasingly tough opposition in Italy, is the clear first choice at the point head coach Tom Izzo was looking to find an option who can give Nairn an occasional break from that role.

Enter senior Denzel Valentine, who played the point throughout his high school career before spending more time off the ball in his first three seasons at Michigan State. The Spartans’ trip to Italy gave Valentine the opportunity to spend more time as the team’s primary ball-handler, and while his head coach was complimentary of the Lansing native’s play there’s also the acknowledgement that there’s more progress to be made before the season begins.

Valentine, who also noted his need to be able to defend the point guard position as a key in his occasional switch, discussed the adjustment with Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press.

“That takes a lot out of you,” Valentine said after playing wing and point in four exhibition games in MSU’s recent trip to Italy. “You’re playing defense against pros, it’s fast-paced, you turn right around and you’ve got to run the break. Definitely different because we pushed it every time. It was definitely challenging.”

MSU coach Tom Izzo said Valentine’s play as Tum Tum Nairn’s primary supplement at point guard “made me feel good because he really pushed the ball and he did some great things.”

Michigan State has some role adjustments to make in advance of the 2015-16 season, with Bryn Forbes needing to be more productive as a scorer and freshmen Deyonta Davis and Matt McQuaid among the other players who will need to contribute if the Spartans are to contend in the Big Ten as expected.

But the most important player for Michigan State is Valentine, whose versatility has been on display throughout his time in East Lansing. The only difference heading into his senior season is that he’ll spend even more time in the role of getting Michigan State going offensively from the point guard position.