So I think its probably time to admit this to you all... I'm kind of a big Tom Izzo - and thus Michigan State - fan. I know it may not be all that surprising given this is a Big Ten basketball blog and as a contributing member, it's not hard to suffice that there must be some sort of passion in these realms. But I assure you, it's much more difficult than you think.
What makes this admission so difficult to finally share with the public is my history with State. You see eight short years ago, one of my biggest individual rivals in high school was all Michigan State everything. He had the shorts. He had those "Two for $40" off-brand sweatshirts from Champs. He wore nothing but green and white (which also happened to be our school's colors). And without fail, when the winter rolled in, he was completely insufferable about "his team". He would walk around our octagon shaped hallways in his "Izzone" shirt that he bought on eBay, shouting the names of Drew Neitzel and Travis Walton like they were some new higher power that we all needed to get behind.
He even buzzed his hair and claimed he was going to learn how to be ambidextrous. He was that serious.
Day in and day out (and without fail) any talk about college basketball was interjected with some green and white propaganda. And being that I mostly hung around with the guys I played ball with, these conversations happened a lot. At practice. At lunch. In the mornings while I was frantically cheating off someones math homework. It was always Michigan State this. Or Tom Izzo that.
Eventually I had enough. I started to hate watch every Sparty game in hopes of soaking up every idiotic decision one of his favorite players made; mentally jotting it down for the next morning at the lockers. It worked out pretty well to start as I was seemingly able shut him up every now and then. But what ended up happening after a couple of weeks of tuning in, I never expected.
He was actually right...Neitzel WAS so much fun to watch. Walton was really good at finding passing lanes. Goran Suton DID rebound everything. Raymar Morgan DID have an innate ability to finish at the rack.
From that point on, I became a closeted Michigan State fan. And with each season, I found another reason to keep watching. It started with Nietzel, then it was Kalin Lucas and then on came Draymond Green and Adrein Payne. Then it was Branden Dawson and now it's Denzel Valentine...my sweet green and white concubine.
Valentine, for those uninitiated, is a tight end playing basketball. He's also the "glue" guy that every team needs to hold all of the other pieces together. He takes the "By Any Means" mantra to heart as he will be the returning leader in rebounds, steals, assists, free throw percentage and points.
But what makes him so special is his all encompassing game. He defends, rebounds, shoots and finishes at the rim. And that goes without mentioning the fact that he is also one of the best passers in the Big Ten and quite possibly the NCAA.
That last point is what I want to harp on though. For three straight years, Valentine has decreased his turnovers while adding to his assist rate. The game is slowing down and it's been stunning to watch the craftiness and pure bravado he puts into some of his assist work:
How many 6'5", 220 pound bowling balls make passes like these?
I suppose it shouldn't be shocking then that Izzo will be putting Valentine as the primary ball-handler during stretches this season (something the coach did while the team was on their trip in Italy).
From The State News,
However, it appears senior guard Denzel Valentine could see time as point guard this fall as well. Valentine played significant minutes at point guard during MSU’s three-game Italy tour, and head coach Tom Izzo was impressed by what he saw.
"I thought Valentine was really good the first two games," Izzo said. "I mean, really, really good. He made shots, he ran the point, he made passes, he made plays, he wanted to guard the best people. He really played good."
This is going to be an interesting switch for Michigan State, but one that is going to work oh so well.
The best part of that news is that Valentine seemingly WANTS this to happen. Again, from The State News:
It wasn't a new experience for Valentine, who played point guard in high school and has looked comfortable as a passer and ball handler during his three years at MSU.
"It was different," Valentine said about playing point guard in Italy. "I played a lot of minutes at point guard, I played wing, I played everything. Especially point. I gained a lot of experience running it and learning the team. I had to do different things and get those guys in order and call plays and bring the bring ball up the floor and turn around and guard, so it was different."
"I played point guard in high school four years," he said. "Went off a little bit for three years. I’m pretty natural at it, I can pick things up. The biggest thing, I just have to be able to guard a point guard and be in game shape to push it the whole game."
"It’s been great because he has a great feel for the game," Nairn said. "He sees everything on the floor and it helps me a lot when we’re in the game together and just both of us are able to make plays for each other and make plays for everybody else."
That's not coach/player speak folks. Valentine is a natural. He wants to make plays but doesn't have to put the ball in the basket himself to do so. When I think about how this will look, at least on the break, my mind keeps going to Draymond Green running the break for Golden State:
Valentine has the skills necessary to run the point of attack both on the break and during their sets... a wrinkle that is going to force defenders to make difficult decisions if Izzo so chooses to throw any P&R action with Valentine as the ball-handler. Regardless of the "how" and "when", props to Izzo for already tinkering with ways to get his best play maker (who also just so happens to be this years "Tom Izzo Swiss Army Knife") the ball early in their possessions and allowing him to dictate the flow of the offense a handful of times per game.
And if it means more of this, consider me allllll in: