February 25, 2012

Valentine leads Sexton in battle of top-ranked rivals

LANSING - Michigan State basketball commitment Denzel Valentine is stuffing the stat sheet every night for defending state champion Lansing Sexton. But his father and Sexton head coach Carlton Valentine is most pleased with the progress Denzel is making with the intangibles.

"His leadership," Coach Valentine said, when asked in which area his son is most improved over last year. "His leadership is incredible. He is talking now. He is the leader in the locker room."

Denzel directed the show with precision and intensity on Friday night during Sexton's 75-58 victory over cross-town rival Lansing Eastern. Valentine had 17 points to go (unofficially) with five rebounds, five assists and five steals as Sexton, the state's No. 1-ranked team in Class B, defeated the state's No. 1 team in Class A in one of the most anticipated regular season games in the basketball history of Michigan's capital city. A sellout crowd of more than 4,400 packed the venerable Don Johnson Fieldhouse for the event.

"It was pretty wild," said Coach Valentine, who played at Michigan State in the late 1980s. "I'm from Washington D.C., so I never saw Magic and Jay play, but this has got to be pretty close."

Magic Johnson and Jay Vincent - two members of Michigan State's 1979 National Championship team - captained Lansing Everett and Lansing Eastern to the top of the Class A rankings in 1977, causing their showdown to be moved to Jenison Fieldhouse, where they played before a sellout crowd.

It's unclear how many tickets Friday night's game between Everett and Sexton would have sold if the game had been held in a bigger venue, but the packed audience might have witnessed a game between two eventual state champions, perhaps playing against each other for the last time, as the Lansing school district ponders the closing of Sexton or Eastern, possibly as early as next year, due to budget issues and decreasing enrollments.

"I hope the game lived up to the billing," Valentine said. "Great game for the city; great game for the community. We haven't played in front of this many people since Breslin (for last year's state title game). Heck of an environment."

Sexton (17-1) clinched the outright CAAC Blue title with the victory. Eastern fell to 16-3.

More On Denzel

Valentine, ranked the No. 80 player in the nation by Rivals.com, was 6-of-13 from the field and 0-for-2 from 3-point range.

The 6-foot-6 Valentine did all of his scoring in the paint. His field goals included:

  • A driving finger roll while being fouled (made the free throw).

  • A half hook.

  • A lay-up off a steal and coast-to-coast push.

  • A drive around Eastern's 6-foot-4 Amari George for a lay-up (and one), stemming from a fast version of the old Jud dribble weave.

  • A spinning 3-footer.

    His best moments came as a passer, including a behind-the-ear dish to Kyren Kemp for a lay-up, and no-look dime to Bryn Forbes after making a steal and creating with a strong, tight spin dribble.

    Valentine never had to come to the forefront and demand the ball for the purpose of his own scoring.

    "He doesn't look for his shot," said Coach Valentine. "He is looking for everybody else. He is a facilitator. He is so unselfish. His first instinct is to look for Forbes."

    How did the coach feel his son played on this night?

    "I thought it was average for him," Coach Valentine said. "Not outstanding. He didn't play great. But when people come watch Denzel play, if you are looking for him to score a lot, it's not going to happen. He's a floor general. He'll be all over the stat sheet with rebounds, assists, steals. When he is out of the game, it's almost like we are cutting off our right arm because they need him on the floor, his leadership, the way he handles the ball, the way he gets people involved."

    Forbes, a 6-foot-3 shooting guard who has signed with Cleveland State, scored 17.

    Point guard Anthony Clemmons, a strong-bodied, 6-foot-1 tough guy who has signed with Iowa, scored 15.

    "Denzel is a perfect complement for Bryn Forbes and Anthony Clemons because those guys are kind of scoring guards," Coach Valentine said. "Even though Anthony is the point, he is looking to score. Denzel will set them up. He is a facilitating guard at 6-foot-6, 220 pounds. He is a walking triple-double."

    Valentine is averaging 17.5 points, 12 rebounds and 9 assists per game. Along with MSU signee Bob Costello of Bay City Western, Valentine is considered a leading contender for Mr. Basketball.

    But can a guy win Mr. Basketball while not leading his team in scoring? Forbes is averaging 17.5.

    The Valentines don't care about that right now.

    "Eastern fought and scrapped and had us down by six or seven early, but our defense was stellar tonight. I have been worried about our D, but we only gave up 58 tonight. I feel a lot better than I did about the 80 we gave up to East Lansing last week."

    "The main focus now is to get better defensively because we have good teams ahead of us," said Coach Valentine. "We have to play Battle Creek Central on Tuesday, and Kalamazoo Loy Norrix on Thursday and then playoffs. We will have an undefeated team in our district (No. 2-ranked Lansing Catholic). So it is going to be a heck of a battle for us."

    Coach V Unplugged

  • What do you want to see Denzel do better?

    "I'm looking for him to finish better. He missed some shots right at the rim tonight. I want him to finish at the rim. He usually does, though."

    Valentine missed a dunk in the second half, but converted the put-back. He also missed a reverse lay-up when trying to for style points late in the game.

  • What kind of feedback are you getting from Tom Izzo on Denzel?

    "Coach likes him. Coach don't say a whole lot, man. Coach will come in and he'll watch, and he'll tell Denzel what he needs to improve on. The last time he saw Denzel play, he said great floor game but he wants to see him shoot it better."

  • On Denzel's defense, Friday night:

    "Denzel did great. He moves his feet. He's long. He bothers you. He's physical. I thought he was fine."

    Comp's Additional Takes

  • If you're looking for comparisons to known properties, I would say Valentine is as good a ball handler as Alan Anderson was. That's quite a compliment. At 6-foot-6, Anderson was Michigan State's best ball handler as a freshman and sophomore in 2003 and '04.

    Valentine's perimeter shooting is probably a little bit better than Anderson's was at the same stage. Anderson came to MSU as a pretty solid shooter and became a "plus" shooter as a power forward after moving to that position in 2005.

    Anderson was a pretty good passer, but Valentine is a great passer. Not only does Valentine play with excellent vision, unselfishness and ball skills, with the ability to deliver the right pass on time and on target, sometimes he does it with eye-popping flair. However, Valentine did have one bad turnover in this game when a behind-the-back pass sailed out of bounds during garbage time. That's the first time I've seen one of his stylings fall stale, although Coach Valentine says it does happen from time to time.

  • Nothing against Cleveland State, but I think Forbes is better than CSU. That's saying something because Cleveland State is a strong mid-major program. CSU recently played in the Bracket Buster series and is expected to win its conference and play in the NCAA Tournament.

    Forbes is a quality shooter, who can get hot and go for 30 on a given night. He has excellent finishing ability in the lane, somewhat similar to MSU's Brandon Wood in that regard.

    The most impressive thing Forbes showed on Friday night was his ability to turn the corner and drive with a left-handed dribble as part of the dribble weave. Pretty impressive for a right-hander who is more noted for his shooting ability.

    Forbes used to be a skinny guy. Now he has filled out a little bit with some decent muscle.

  • Clemmons looks like a good pick-up for the Hawkeyes. He is from the Travis Walton school of strength and intensity. He has longer arms than Walton, might be a tad quicker and is a better shooter than Walton was at the same stage. Clemmons' AAU coach Norm Oden tells me that Clemmons is a true point guard, and SpartanMag.com's Paul Konyndyk concurs. Walton was a great leader. Clemmons (6-1, 190) has the tools and mentality to be a defensive stopper at the college level.

    I was watching for pure point guard skill from Clemmons and I didn't quite see it on this night; but that doesn't mean he lacks it. It just didn't show up on this night.

  • Western Michigan and Akron were on hand for this game, likely to check out Lansing Eastern senior wing Fredrick Edmond. At 6-4, Edmond has a good frame, good length, good strength and he is a plus leaper. He had a sensational two-handed put-back jam, and showed nice finishing touch with a spinning, double-clutch high-glasser,

    Edmond whoofed at Valentine in the opening minute after blocking Valentine's first shot. Edmond barked at him one or two other times throughout the evening. Edmond also yelled at a teammate or two. He's verbal .

  • Remember the name Trevor Manuel. He is an intriguing, 6-foot-8, 190-pound freshman for Sexton. Manuel is long and thin, and just a puppy. A skinny puppy. But he shows good timing as a shot blocker and, perhaps most importantly at this stage, he has good hands. He made a difficult one-handed catch on a fast high feed from Valentine look easy, converting it into a lay-up.

    Manuel came off the bench for 5 points, 5 blocks and 4 rebounds. He didn't get a chance to operate in the low post in this game.

    He went down with a knee injury with 1:34 remaining when he was given a hard foul while attempting a dunk.

    "I probably should have had him out of there," Valentine said. "We are going to get his knee checked out tonight and the first thing tomorrow. We need him. He played great tonight. The big fella has come a long way."

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