Lansing Sexton had just won its first state championship in 51 years, and junior guard Denzel Valentine — not surprisingly — was excited.
After the final horn sounded Saturday at Breslin Center, and the Big Reds’ 75-60 win was official, Valentine slammed his hands on the Spartan helmet in the lane in front of the Sexton bench and yelled, “This is my house.”
For the most part, Valentine’s declaration was nothing more than a high school kid celebrating one of the biggest accomplishments of his life. But with Valentine committed to join the MSU men’s basketball team in 2012, when Breslin will indeed be his house, it also might have been a bit of foreshadowing for MSU fans.
“I was just really excited about winning the state championship,” Valentine said when asked about his celebration. “That was one of my goals when I was little. The second goal is to get to a Final Four and maybe a national championship.”
Much like he has been all season, Valentine was instrumental in Sexton’s run to a state championship. The 6-foot-5 guard scored 12 points, grabbed four rebounds and dished out three assists against Detroit Country Day in the semifinals before going for 17, six and three against Muskegon Heights.
And after leading his team through the state tournament, Valentine said he couldn’t help himself when his goal of winning a title came true.
“I’m an emotional player,” Valentine said. “When we’re up, I try to get the crowd hype and build my teammates. I was just excited.”
Throughout Saturday’s game, Valentine displayed what made MSU head coach Tom Izzo give him an offer. Valentine handled the Tigers’ pressure, nailed 3-of-5 3-pointers and showed off his athleticism with a thunderous two-handed dunk in the closing seconds of the third quarter.
However, Valentine’s most impressive ability might have been his passing Saturday night, as he delivered a number of highlight-reel dishes. Forward Tyrin Wade has been the recipient of those passes all season, and he said Valentine’s ability to get others involved is what makes him special.
“Denzel is a great player, “ Wade said. “He gets criticized on his game, but people don’t understand what Denzel is. He’s very unselfish, he leads his team in assists and rebounds, and he doesn’t credit for the little things he does on the defensive end.”
Wade said Valentine knows what it takes to win, something made obvious during both games this weekend when Valentine was on the floor instructing his teammates while also taking care of his own game.
Valentine’s court sense shouldn’t be a surprise considering his dad, Carlton Valentine, is the Big Reds’ head coach and his older brother is a guard at Oakland.
“He’s a smart kid, and he’s been around basketball a long time,” Carlton Valentine said. “He knows the game.”
Still, Denzel Valentine isn’t satisfied. He now has a state championship, but with one more of high school left, he hopes to get another one. Then, it’s off to East Lansing in 2012, when he can officially move into his new house.
Until then, Denzel Valentine said he will work on improving his ability to lead, so he hopefully can take the Spartans to another title.
“I don’t want to become a better scorer or passer,” Denzel Valentine said. “I just want to be a better leader, so I can lead my team to a national championship.”
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