Denzel Valentine was reluctant to admit it, but even he checked the draft boards before his senior year at Michigan State.
What the 6-foot-5 combo guard was dismayed to learn, even after sparking a surprise Final Four run in 2015, was that he wasn’t on them.
“I can tell you that I didn’t look at the draft boards, but come on now, everybody looks at them,” Valentine admitted. “Everybody searches on Google, this and that, and I wasn’t on there.”
That weighed on Valentine, the gifted 22-year-old passer out of Lansing, Michigan. Likely a second-round pick at the beginning of the year, Valentine said he was “desperate” to turn basketball into a profession.
“I just got in the gym and cut everything off pretty much and just went to work,” he said. “To start the season, I had something to prove.”
It took two games before he made his point. On November 17 against Kansas at the Champions Classic in Chicago, Valentine became the fourth player in Michigan State history (Magic Johnson, Draymond Green, Charlie Bell) to record a triple-double. His 29 points paced the comeback, and his 12 assists, a career-high at the time, matched the Jayhawks’ entire total for the game. The AP and USA TODAY Sports’ player of the year would break both of those career-highs later in the season, but that game, he said, cemented the idea…