Denzel Valentine: Going For Gold
The last time 6-foot-5 guard Denzel Valentine, one of the final 12 players selected for the 2015 U.S. Pan American Men’s Basketball Team, was competing on a basketball hardwood, he was helping lead Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans to a Final Four appearance by averaging 14.6 points throughout the NCAA Tournament. With a loss to eventual NCAA champ Duke ending his junior collegiate season, Valentine is eager for the opportunity to compete with USA Basketball.
“Making it to the final four was crazy! The whole atmosphere -- being in Indianapolis the week leading up to it with all the hype of the media and fans,” said Valentine. “When you run out on the floor seeing 100,000 fans cheering, it was a lot. I definitely want to get back for another chance next year.”
Looking towards the future is something Valentine cannot help from doing; however, right now he is focusing on what this moment means to him and the ultimate goal of winning Pan American Games gold in Toronto.
Getting the opportunity to play for the USA is clearly something this star guard has been dreaming about for a while.
“It meant a lot,” Denzel said about how it felt when he was invited to be a part of this team. “Not everyone gets a chance to be here and play with the best in the country. To be invited to play for a USA team is a big honor. I remember when I was younger my teammates would get invited to play for Team USA, and I always wanted to be a part of that. Being here, wearing the USA jersey is really cool.”
Realizing his dream of competing for his country, the Lansing, Michigan, native now looks to take full advantage of the opportunity and make any contribution he can.
One of Valentine’s greatest strengths is his ability to play almost any position on the floor, which make him a very dynamic player.
“I think I am pretty much a do-it-all type of player. I can shoot the ball, play good defense, get rebounds, check in at the 1 through 4 positions, making me very versatile; push it in transition, and make the right pass. Whatever way coach Few wants me to help, I will do it.”
Possessing so much versatility makes him a coach’s dream. After being with the USA team for over a week, he acknowledged he has learned a lot from the coaching staff and competing against the professional veterans on the U.S. squad.
“They show a different side (the veterans), especially Damien (Wilkins). He’s not the most athletic guy, but he uses his IQ, and because of that he is very effective out here. He lets you know it’s not all about speed and athleticism. You’ve got to think the game and really know what you are doing on the court, offensively and defensively to be effective.”
Adding this knowledge to his arsenal, he knows there is still a lot of work to be done before he and his teammates can stand on top of the medal podium. He believes that the next key step for the team is to build a strong bond while practicing in Chicago.
“It’s all about molding and building chemistry while we are there. That’s when we come together as a team. As soon as we hit Toronto, we’ve only got a couple days of practice before the games start.”
Enjoying the moment is something Valentine hopes to slow down and embrace before the team arrives in Canada.
“I think my favorite part is going to be Chicago -- you know downtown, walking around, hanging with the fellas, building that chemistry and practicing at the Bulls’ facility. I think that’s going be the best time, along with playing the games in Toronto and hopefully coming home with the gold medal.”
When asked what taking the gold medal in Toronto would mean, Valentine replied, “It would mean a lot.
! That’s history, and when you have children you can go back in the record book and show them that was your team that won the gold. That would be huge!”
You can follow Valentine and the U.S. men’s basketball team on Twitter at #USABmpag
USA versus Venezuela at 9 p.m. EDT on July 21
USA versus Puerto Rico at 9 p.m. on July 22
USA versus Brazil at 9 p.m. EDT on July 23
Semifinals on July 24
Finals on July 25