Valentine shows flashes of brillance against Texas Southern
Sophomore guard Alex Gauna goes to shoot the ball during the game against Texas Southern on Nov. 18, 2012, at Breslin Center. The Spartans beat the Tigers 69-41. Natalie Kolb/The State News
There are times Denzel Valentine makes his head coach’s blood boil.
The flashy freshman guard loves to make the highlight play in the open floor, but in transitioning to college, Valentine still is learning to adjust to the increased speed of the game, figuring out what plays are truly there to be made.
“Sometimes I get too hyped up and try to make the home run, like (head coach Tom Izzo) says, and it gets me in trouble, so I’ve just got to chill out a little sometimes,” Valentine said.
“Everything’s going at such a faster pace. There’s so much to pick up on. … So when I have so much stuff to think about, it’s harder to make those home-run plays where you’re more chill and you can do whatever you want. This is more high pace, more stuff to do, so I’ve just got to dial it down more.”
Progress seems to be coming for Valentine, after finishing with eight points, five assists and three rebounds in a 69-41 victory over Texas Southern on Sunday, where he said he began to feel more comfortable.
The newfound comfort helped ignite the Spartans and their fans early in the first half, after the guard found freshman forward Matt Costello with a no-look pass for a layup and timed a missed shot from sophomore guard Branden Dawson with a follow-up dunk.
“It was hard for him earlier, but now I think he’s getting better and better with it because everybody has to realize sooner or later that college and high school are two different levels. Guys are a lot stronger, faster and quicker, so you can’t do the same things that you did on that level,” junior guard Keith Appling said.
“He made a whole lot of great decisions out there. He made some good passes, (and) he was able to finish in transition; he did a lot of good things.”
The beneficiary of a couple of Valentine’s heads-up passes was his roommate and fellow freshman guard Gary Harris, who finished with a game-high 19 points.
Harris said Valentine’s court vision is what makes him a great player.
“It’s always fun playing with him. That’s my roommate, so I feel like we’ve built a pretty good relationship, which has translated onto the court,” Harris said.
“It seems like he knows where everybody is. He sees things that I don’t think anybody else can see, which makes him such a great passer and playmaker.”
Still, Izzo said there are a number of areas in which Valentine needs to improve, most notably his consistency.
“One of his issues is always trying to hit home runs, and (he) forgets about the singles,” Izzo said.
“I love Denzel, but I’m still not ready to say he’s doing the things he needs to do on a consistent basis. He got his turnovers down, which is a big thing from the previous games, but right now, he has to get better defensively and being vocal.”