March 27, 2011

Valentine's Day: Denzel, Sexton win state title

EAST LANSING - It's now time to start talking about future Spartan Denzel Valentine as the state of Michigan's next great player, and his father, former Spartan Carlton Valentine, as one of the state's great coaches.

Father and son were dynamite in Lansing Sexton's 75-60 victory over Muskegon Heights in the Class B state championship game, Saturday at Breslin Center.

With sound, full-court, fastball structure and breakneck athleticism, Lansing Sexton played a beautiful brand of basketball for the entire weekend in notching the school's first state title in 50 years. And four starters will be returning next year, including Denzel.

Denzel Valentine, a 6-foot-5 junior who is committed to Michigan State, excels in the rare art form of making everyone around him better. He had only three basketball assists in this game, but must have had a half-dozen hockey assists (making the pass that led to the pass).

Valentine didn't just run the point in this game, he made one. When circumstances presented themselves, he threw the dazzling pass, or scored the 3 ball, or drove for rim-rattling dunks.

Valentine is not a great athlete in terms of lateral quickness and straight-line speed. So please be patient with him, and don't put him in the pro hall of fame just yet. But at the high school level, and likely in the college arena, he has the look of high-end winner.

Valentine is the type of guy who can dominate a game without scoring a bunch of points. But in this game, he did all of it. Valentine finished with 17 points, six rebounds, three assists and two turnovers.

He was 5-of-13 from the field, including a spiffy 3-of-5 from 3-point range.

On defense, he guarded Muskegon Heights superstar Deontae Hudson, and helped hold him to 5-of-25 shooting from the field. Hudson lit up Dowagiac one night earlier for 31 points.

Running the offense, making fancy passes, throwing down explosive dunks, hitting the opportune jumper, and playing stopper defense ... this kid Valentine is in the process of becoming a basketball virtuoso.

"Denzel is the real deal," said Muskegon Heights head coach Keith Guy. "It's hard to believe he is just a junior and we'll see him again next year. He's a good kid and a total team guy, and a leader, and handling the ball at 6-5 the way he does, I mean you don't see that every day. He is an excellent player. He has great court vision, passing ability, ball handling, he shot the three well in our game.

"There are not many that can pass the ball like he does, especially in that frame. He's special. Even on the next level he is going to cause matchup problems for people. And he is going to continue to get better."

Selective Hearing

With 1:30 remaining and Sexton up by 9, Sexton big man Tyrin Wade corralled an offensive rebound after a lengthy Big Reds possession. Wade hurled the ball back out to Denzel.

"Pull it out!" Carlton Valentine yelled. He wanted to run some clock.

But Denzel let fly with a 3-pointer from the right wing. Swish. That put the Big Reds up 52-40. Ball game.

"I didn't hear him," Denzel said. "I was just feeling it, and when you're feeling it you don't really listen. So I just shot it and it went in."

That's one instance in which it's okay for son not to listen to dad.

Earlier, Carlton looked like he was threatening to take Denzel's allowance away for a play he made midway through the first half.

I saw an opening.

"At the end of the first quarter, the clock was winding down, and we had a pick-and-roll for Anthony Clemons, and I was like, 'I'm open.' So I kind of threw up a bull shot, and airballed it.

"And my dad was like, 'You can't do that. Don't shoot that. You've got to go to the basket.'"

At the end of the third quarter, Sexton spread the floor, and Denzel went to work off the high ball screen, accelerating around the switch man with a left-handed dribble, down the lane and up or a fast, high, hard, two-handed jam. That one stopped the show.

"At the end of the third quarter, I was like it's my time to take that opportunity again and get to the rack," Denzel said. "I saw that opening and I was like, 'yeah,' and I dunked it."

Tackling A Dream

"It's an unbelievable feeling," said Denzel Valentine. "I was just like, 'Is this really happening?' I was shocked. You always dream about going crazy and everything and run around the court, but when it happens, you're just like, 'Wow.'

"That was one of my goals from when I was younger, winning a state championship. The second goal is getting to a Final Four and maybe winning a national championship. So I feel like one goal is completed."

And there is still next year. The smart ones will peg Sexton (26-2) as the best team in the state, regardless of class, for 2012.

"Morgan Wootten used to say once you win one, the work gets harder," said Carlton Valentine, who played high school ball for the legendary Wooten at Dematha in Maryland.

One night earlier, Valentine quoted Jud Heathcote, for whom he played college ball at Michigan State in the mid-1980s.

Valentine was so happy on championship night, he even quoted George Perles. Kind of.

"I told the guys if you trust the system and work hard, good things will happen," Valentine said.

Close enough.

As for Heathcote, "I'm going to call Jud tonight," he said.

Denzel fully expects this to be the first of many title nights for himself in this building.

"I just want to put in some early work with some championships for what I'm hoping to do here for the next four years after this, at Breslin," he said.

Mostly, he wanted to do it for his dad.

"We made it to the state championship game last year, but lost to Country Day," Denzel said. "I wanted to get him a state championship before I left for college because he didn't get to do it with Drew (Denzel's older brother, who is now playing at Oakland University).

"Sexton had fallen off before my dad took over. Taking the program and making it to the state championship twice, that's a big memory for me."

Winning for dad. Playing defense. Making those around him better. Like Coach Guy of Muskegon Heights said, this Valentine is the real deal.
















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