East Lansing, MI
Tom Izzo is about to enter the Hall of Fame. That speaks for itself. Yet this year he has perhaps his best team since he won the national title and his #8 ranked Spartans are sporting a 21-5 (8-5) record. With one of his best group of kids as well as a team, he took some time to talk about his star, Denzel Valentine.
He said of Valentine’s performance this season that, “I think (Denzel) Valentine is playing at the highest level as maybe I’ve ever had a guy play at in the last six games when you look at everything he has done. I was looking at the all things and you really forget that he changed positions and when he changed positions that really changed his rebounding especially. At the point he has different responsibilities, and yet to do what he has done has been incredible and it has helped us. As I let somebody know, are you getting too one dimensional? Well when you have 13 assists somebody else is making baskets. It is not like the other guys aren’t playing. Somebody else is making baskets. With all of the falderal around our team he has stayed pretty focused on what he has to do. That has been greatly appreciated. Winning has always been what he is all about. “
But the praise didn’t stop while speaking here at the Breslin Center. He went on to praise him for not only playing at a high level, but being able to play multiple positions on a team with so many short term injuries.
Izzo said, “Denzel, when you look at all of the people that are changing around him, it’s hard to be a quarterback when you got all of those moving parts and all of those guys that play in different ways. It’s pretty amazing. I have had a lot of people call me and ask me where I rate him on who you are and what you are? As far as players you have coached in the past and how they’ve been? He’s done some things as good or better than anyone I have had, at least in this stretch, but this is the real time of year now. As far as great players, I think they have to answer the bell on the biggest stages and the biggest moments of the year and we are getting near that time.”
How good is the player of the year candidate Valentine? Get this. He has watched his points per game average over the last four years grow from five, eight, 15 and now 20. That is impressive, but not even close to the entire story. Look at how is rebounding average per game has matured from four, six, six and eight this season. Finally those are great personal figures but what about assists? He doesn’t disappoint their either going from two, three, four and finally seven in his senior campaign.
So now that he has moved to the point is Zel more dangerous because he is leading the Spartan attack from the top? Izzo thinks so.
“Well that does help. He’s a threat so they got to come up on him and maybe it frees some guys. He’s a threat because we can ball-screen for him early in the break and he can read things off that and stills shoot the ball. Like I said, there are positives. The neat part would be if I could get Tum back a little bit more, now you’d have kind of two, like you have an option quarterback and then the next play you’ve got a passing quarterback. You have to cover people different. Nobody would feel as comfortable, and I do think the one thing we are doing is we’re still wearing Zel down a little bit. I’ve got to keep him fresh somehow, whether it be practices, whether it be whatever we do, because not only is he playing a lot of minutes and that’s not a surprise. When you’re playing a lot of minutes at the point, and now you’re being asked to guard a little bit better than you have in the past, as I said, the only thing he doesn’t do is coach the team and he can do that some, too.”
As demonstrated above, Izzo can use Valentine as a great example as what happens when a player stays and improves. Zel has gotten better every season.
Izzo elaborated, “In ‘Zel’s case, he’s always had to work for everything he’s gotten, so sometimes it’s confidence. You think some of these guys, as cocky as they seem at times; confidence is a big factor in basketball. You see guys get up, get down, things are going well, who can handle that. I wish for a lot of guys that they had another year.”
The Spartan Nation should be ecstatic to have such a great young man on and off the court holding the banner of the Spartans. Can he lead Izzo to his eighth Final Four and second national title? We will see, but I wouldn’t bet against him and neither should you!
The Spartans tip off vs. Wisconsin tonight at the Breslin Center. That game can be seen on ESPN at 9PM.