Don’t Make the Denzel Valentine Stop: In Praise of Fun Basketball


DVMarch Madness is here, which means that “March Madness” is going to be said, written, tweeted, Instagrammed, computer generated and cursed more than 1.4 million times in the next four weeks. It’s just science. And search engine optimization. And the weird branding consequence of what is reported to be a billion dollars of advertisement buys. And “One Shining Moment” montages. And TruTV getting super real and letting Charles Barkley talk about college basketball.

Again, science.

While teams like Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke and Murray State1 all seem poised to make deep runs into the tournament and destined to remain in our collective consciousness for at least the next couple of weeks, good-but-faltering teams with fantastically talented players aren’t nearly the Vegas-certified lock the aforementioned are.

Indiana and Yogi Ferrell, for instance, were ushered into the Tourney in the dark of night under the scratchy woolen cloak of a 10-seed, but waiting for them inside the walls is a criminally under-seeded Wichita State. If Indiana knocks off Wichita State — which would be mildly annoying, only because Ron Baker falls into the same category as the rest of these guys — then they have to deal with Kansas. It doesn’t look pretty.

Utah — biases aside — became a wonderfully fun story and a darling of the KenPom ranking system before revealing themselves to be weirdly ineffective in close games and shaky down the stretch in the Pac-12. This development puts the NCAA versions of both Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl in jeopardy. Both players are incredibly fun to watch, and they’re both potential first-round draft picks. They kept Utah within a possession of Kansas in Manhattan back in November, but Utah is also a five-seed and being a five-seed is basically the second Bolgia in the Eighth Circle of the Inferno2.

Or Michigan State. Their late season cohesion and Big Ten Tournament finals’ run was awarded with a seven-seed, which means that the NCAA’s laced-up embodiment of Free Jazz, Denzel Valentine, might not make it out of the first weekend, and that would be a huge bummer.

Yes, he did potentially cost the Spartans a Big Ten Tournament title (and thus a higher tourney seed) due to a borderline indefensible basketball decision. And yes, the only reason the word “borderline” appears in the previous sentence is because it is in reference to Valentine.

(That decision unfolded like this: Valentine grabbed a loose ball with less than 30 seconds left on the clock, MSU up 69-67, and promptly tried to whip it up-court to a phantom Branden Dawson that Valentine thought “was streaking down the floor wide open.” Dawson wasn’t, and Sam Dekker (another fantastically fun player to watch play basketball, at least on occasion, but he’s a different story) absolutely was. Dekker stole the outlet and found Bronson Koenig. Koenig got fouled sank two free throws and Michigan State didn’t score again, losing in the Big Ten Tournament’s first-ever overtime championship game, 80-69.)

It was a dumb play. After the game, Valentine told the Detroit Free Press, “I cost us the game… It shouldn’t have went down like that. I should have just caught the ball, wrapped it up, and we would have had the win.”

He was right. He should’ve just wrapped up the ball, gotten fouled, shot his well-earned free throws and laughed his way to a B1G Tournament MVP trophy. But instead, he didn’t do any of that and went Full Denzel Valentine.

What is Full Denzel Valentine? That’s an incredibly tough question to answer. It’s like breaking down the process of bottling interpretive dance or explaining what it is about the screechlp’s3 in U Guessed It that makes it the best song released in the last two years, but it’s also important enough to unpack.

First of all, it should be noted, Full Denzel Valentine looks nothing like Full Denzel Washington. Full Denzel Washington should be preserved in the Smithsonian for posterity, but it’s just a different thing. I assume FDW looks a lot like Training Day or the Equalizer but probably not like the Book of Eli even if it maybe looks a little like Safe House.

Full Denzel Valentine is symphony of Holy Shit Passes, drilled three-pointers, Rodmanian body movements and clairvoyant court vision.

Valentine came to MSU as a point guard by way of Lansing, MI basketball powerhouse, Sexton High School4, but has played just about everywhere in his three years as a Spartan, taking over the Draymond Green Utility Role, only this time in the backcourt.

In any given game, Valentine will knock down multiple big baskets, make a pass that will leave the viewer so stunned that he/she will have no choice but to drift toward the TV like a moth around a porch light and get way too into it.

He does things like this without warning:

No-look alley oops are kind of his thing. Actually, anything with a high-degree of difficulty is kind of his thing. If he played guitar, he would want to play a triple neck while mashing up “Stairway to Heaven” and “Purple Haze” in real-time. He’s an animal, but the kind of animal that fires off-hand crosscourt passes 45 feet on a rope, and I don’t know what kind of animal that is so he might be a new kind of animal. He bulldozes into the lane with such disregard that he seemingly forgets that a) he is human and b) humans get hurt fairly easily.

His style of play forces his coach, Tom Izzo, a noted curmudgeon who mildly enjoys approximately three things every year, to openly acknowledge his basketball IQ.

Against Maryland he basically acted as Izzo’s Winston Wolf, cleaning up messes with style. Against Wisconsin, prior to the dumb pass, he was getting his Treadstone assassin on, dropping 16 points on 4-6 from three. For the season, he’s averaging 14.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, and shooting .444/.418/.819.

His free throw shooting percentage, arguably his only true weakness coming into the season, has increased by 15 percent since last season. His three-point percentages have climbed from .281 to .377 to .418. And he could always pass.

Watching Denzel Valentine is watching Free Jazz if Free Jazz had limbs and a mohawk and understood the thunderous potential of an alley-oop feed.

But mostly, watching Denzel Valentine is just fun. It’s fun to watch someone play like they’ve both never lost and never wanted anything more than not to lose. He’s lost plenty, but it doesn’t deter him.

12775544675_3e165101dd_oIt’s why I called the pass “borderline indefensible.” It’s probably all the way indefensible, just like the behavior of most rockstars and artists. But in the same way that you have to deal with shattered television sets to get Tommy or Alec Baldwin to get 30 Rock, you have to deal with terrible passes in the Worst Possible Moments to get plays like this…

And I’m ok with that. I just hope I get one more weekend of it.


  • Just kidding, Murray State! Sorry about your snub! Well kind of sorry. I feel like you should change your logo/team name. I’m not sure what exactly a Racer has to do with basketball, football or any other collegiate sport played in Ohio that isn’t track, and even if an ambiguous “racer” was part of the logo, it still doesn’t seem particularly applicable to basketball. But it isn’t ambiguous, the Racer in front of the M is a specific thing. A horse racer. Which is another sport entirely. One where people compete and earn money and write cancelled television shows about. It’s just a weird name-choice for an entity that doesn’t offer horse racing on even a club level. To confuse matters further, Wikipedia says that you offer equestrian as a club sport, but not racing (for obvious reasons). You used to be called the Thoroughbreds, which is an interesting team name, but now it’s just the Racers, which isn’t an interesting team name. It’s the name of a type of athlete that your school isn’t affiliated with. That’d be like calling yourselves the Murray State Rock Climbers or the Murray State Chess Boxers. Sorry. To everyone. I digressed at the expense of Murray State. Jump! Jump
  • You know, the one where the offending party (in this case flatterers, but in analogously irrelevant) spend eternity steeped in human shit. That one. Yes, I’m comparing the NCAA Tournament’s five-seed to a circle of hell that, according to a super old book, housed the people worse than violent criminals. Jump
  • That’s a new word. It’s a combination of screech, yelp and scream. Listen to this and try to come up with a more specific description. Jump
  • Magic Johnson lived five blocks away from Sexton and was supposed to play there before getting rezoned into the Everett High School district. Jump

Categories: Basketball

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