Michigan State Basketball: Is Denzel Valentine’s legacy undervalued?

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State basketball (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images)
Denzel Valentine, Michigan State basketball (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images) /

After a solid Michigan State basketball career, it seems as if Denzel Valentine’s legacy in East Lansing is overlooked because of how it ended.

When the final seconds ticked off Michigan State’s 2015-16 season, Denzel Valentine was the most disappointed player in the locker room.

For four years, he wanted to lead Michigan State to a Final Four as a senior and get Tom Izzo national title No. 2. He had just gone to a Final Four as the Robin to Travis Trice’s Batman the year prior, but he wanted to reach that national semifinal as the leader of the team and it looked like Michigan State was going to do just that.

And then Middle Tennessee happened.

Michigan State finished the regular season 29-5 and looked like the best team from the Big Ten and a sure No. 1 seed, but the committee gave the Spartans a 2-seed against a team that arguably should have been seeded much higher.

Middle Tennessee was motivated while the Spartans were just hoping to survive and advantage and we all know how that turned out. Arguably the most complete MSU team from the past 5-6 years — some would argue in Izzo’s entire tenure — went from national title favorite to first-round upset and Valentine’s magical senior season came to an abrupt end.

Since this happened with him as a senior, people seem to forget just how great Valentine was in a Michigan State uniform.

Was the Middle Tennessee loss a contributing factor to Valentine’s undervalued career? Absolutely.

OK, let’s get one thing straight, he is thought to be one of Michigan State’s best players in the Izzo era, but often gets overlooked when it comes to all-time greats. He was a national player of the year candidate, one of the most clutch Spartans ever and an excellent leader. He was one of Izzo’s greatest Spartans and doesn’t get enough love for what he brought to the program.

Not an immediate Michigan State basketball star

I’ll be the first to admit it, Valentine wasn’t my favorite player through his first two seasons but he won myself and many other Spartan faithful over in year three with a run to the Final Four alongside Travis Trice.

It wasn’t just the Final Four appearance that won fans over, but he made a believer out of everyone when he stopped making silly mistakes and forcing bad passes into traffic to try and make a highlight and he was more consistent and dependable. He started his gradual rise as a sophomore when he looked Draymond Green-esque, and then really reached star status as a junior.

Valentine went from 8.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, a 38 percent 3-point shooting rate and a 41 percent field goal conversion rate as a sophomore to 14.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 42 percent 3-point shooting and 44 percent from the floor as a junior.

And then his senior year was incredible as he was named the Big Ten Player of the Year and a top-two contender for national player of the year with Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield. He finished the season averaging 19.2 points, 7.8 assists, 7.5 rebounds, shooting 44 percent from deep and 46 percent from the floor. He was Mr. Reliable.

The career that Denzel had at Michigan State should be much more celebrated than it currently is and fans need to realize just how lucky they are to have seen a series of all-time greats like Kalin Lucas, Draymond, Valentine and then Miles Bridges and Cassius Winston over the past decade. Truly a spoiled fanbase.

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