Teammates to turn opponents in MSU, Iowa game
Valentine to go head-to-head with former high school teammate
MSU basketball players Keith Appling and Derrick Nix discuss their expectations for the game against Iowa on Thursday and talk about the tough competition in the Big Ten Conference for the overall season.
It’s been nearly 10 months since Denzel Valentine and Anthony Clemmons set foot on a basketball court as teammates.
A lifetime of preparation, early-morning workouts and practices that sometimes roared into the darkness of a winter evening led to the Lansing Sexton High seniors capturing their second consecutive MHSAA Class B state championship. In moments of elation about what the future held, it became difficult not to think back to all they’ve been through together.
Whether it be on the youth football field, where Clemmons earned the nickname “Sapp” after displaying ferocious ability similar to former NFL All-Pro Warren Sapp, or the many meals and laughs shared at the Valentine family household, the pair established a relationship far deeper than that of teammates; they became brothers.
The pair have a chance to reunite on the court this week at Carver–Hawkeye Arena. However, this time around, it will be as opponents, as Clemmons’ Iowa team (11-4, 0-2) plays host to Valentine and the No. 22 Spartans on Thursday (7 p.m., ESPN2).
“It’s kind of weird when we’re going over the scouting report and they’re talking about his tendencies,” Valentine said. “I’m like ‘Tss, yeah’, you know? I know his whole game and he knows mine. It’s just gonna be fun out there.”
The game will be the first time the former Big Reds have played each other at the collegiate level. Lansing Sexton sent three of its players from last season’s team to play Division I basketball, with the other being Cleveland State guard Bryn Forbes, who also grew up close to Valentine and Clemmons.
During his first season, Valentine has made his mark as a starter with 6.5 points and nearly three assists per game. Clemmons also has developed into a productive starter for the Hawkeyes with 4.8 points and 4.1 assists per game to lead Iowa to a surprisingly fast start.
As the former teammates and longtime friends prepare to face each other on the court for the first time, others are gearing up for the matchup as well, including Valentine’s mother Kathy Valentine.
As the boys’ passion for the game grew at the AAU level, it often was Kathy Valentine who played the role of chauffeur, ushering them from location to location in hopes of improving their college prospects. It was that time in the car where her connection with the boys grew, especially with Clemmons, who she’s long considered another son along with Denzel and his older brother Drew Valentine.
“I text him like I would Drew or Denzel,” she said. “I text him ‘I love you’; I text him just like I would a son. He and I are really close. We talk about girls, I give him advice, like I would do my son. … He listens to me as my sons would.”
Head coach Tom Izzo certainly recognizes the challenges of facing one of the Big Ten’s up-and-coming guards in Clemmons.
Though Izzo often is asked why he didn’t recruit Clemmons to play alongside Denzel, Izzo maintains it wasn’t what the program needed at the time, rather than a knock at his talent.
“It had nothing to do with whether he’s good enough to play or not,” Izzo said. “It had to do with what you need and what you’re looking for. I’m happy for him. It’s kind of nice for (Lansing Sexton head coach) Carlton (Valentine) to have two guys starting in the Big Ten.”
Having faced his blood brother in his fifth collegiate game against Oakland earlier this year, a sibling rivalry on the court is nothing new to Valentine. Going against Clemmons, this game will present a similar challenge, both physically and emotionally.
After the Spartans topped Oakland 70-52 in Nov. 2012, Kathy Valentine said there was a bittersweet feeling that comes along with seeing one son succeed while the other fails.
Along with a group of Lansing Sexton supporters, Kathy Valentine said she will make the trip to Iowa City, Iowa to watch the showdown between her youngest son and his longtime friend. Unfortunately, she said
she expects much of the same feeling after the final buzzer sounds at Carver–Hawkeye Arena.
Still, for a set of brothers bonded by time, experience, a pair of high school titles and endless hours together on and off the court, it’s unlikely the outcome of the game will affect more than a place in the Big Ten standings.
“I’m kind of feeling like I’m in the same position now,” she said. “It’s going to be really nice to go and watch them play on the same floor. (But) I know at the end, someone’s (going to) feel bad; someone’s going to lose.
“They’ll both inspire each other, they’ll both be in each other’s corner, but in the end, I know both of them will want their own team to be the winner.”