December 13, 2010

Hoop Recruiting Scene: Valentine shows big heart

LANSING, Mich. - Denzel Valentine played 31 forgettable minutes for Lansing Sexton in the Big Reds' season opener at Lansing Eastern, Saturday evening at Don Johnson Fieldhouse. The final minute, the Sexton junior will look back upon fondly for the rest of his days.

Sexton trailed Eastern by as many as a dozen in the second half and by seven, 67-60, with 90 seconds to go. Valentine, a 6-foot-5 Michigan State commitment, was a mere 2-for-9 from the floor when he approached his dad and Sexton coach, Carlton Valentine, in a timeout with the Big Red inbounding down 67-65, under a minute to play.

"I've never seen him like that," said Coach Valentine. "Denzel said to get him the ball, because he wanted to score, he knew he could score. He was hungry, so we fed him."

The baseline out of bounds play saw the younger Valentine bounce the ball of an Eastern player's butt, retrieve the ball and sink a floating hook shot across the lane. Then he stripped Eastern point guard Cha Cha Tucker at midcourt and burst out for the go-ahead dunk with :15 seconds remaining. After securing a miss of a Tucker free throw, Valentine made a free throw to provide the final margin, a 70-67 victory for Sexton in one of the more noteworthy games of the young high school basketball season.

With all-stater Valentine struggling, thanks in no small part to the defense of Eastern's 6-2 sophomore Brian Morton, who would let Denzel initiate the offense then lock him up off the ball, Sexton's chances looked dire. Its 6-7 sophomore center, Jalen Hayes, tipped one in to tie it 42-42 midway through the third quarter, only to see the host Quakers break out on a 12-0 run with Morton showing some offense of his own, Tucker running the�show and 6-5 Dayton signee LaDontae Henton dominating. Henton finished with a game-high 29 points.

"I don't care what anybody says," Carlton Valentine said of the other team's star player. "Three times all-state, Dontae is the best player in Michigan. He's Mr. Basketball."

That award could end up even closer to home in 2012 when Denzel is a senior. After missing two months of workouts with an ankle injury, then struggling for most of this season-opening showcase at Don Johnson Fieldhouse, at the time of the game when stars are truly born, Denzel arrived fully formed.

"We weren't playing well, but we kept telling each other it's not over, we can't quit," said Denzel Valentine. "It feels amazing. This is huge for Sexton, huge for the city, huge for everybody."

"Denzel made some huge plays at the end," his coach said. "That was a tough shot, a big-time dunk, and the rebound was important too. And to do it against Eastern, one of, if not the best, team in the state, this is one of the biggest wins I've had."

Tucker, considered one of the best young point guards in the country,�submitted a strong�floor game until the final minute, when he missed four free throws and turned the ball over. He got to the line ably, choosing his moments to hit the gaps in Sexton's defense and force defenses to converge, drawing fouls.

Tucker is a smart passer and knows the game particularly well for a young player. He's one of three Division I recruits active for the Quakers, along with Henton and Morton. They'll be joined by a fourth next semester, 6-5 sophomore Steven Haney, an East Lansing transfer who, like Tucker, is firmly in MSU's recruiting sights.

Two In A Row For Anderson

One player Valentine knows he'll be joining in East Lansing is Dwaun Anderson. The 6-4 senior recently scored 23 points to lead Suttons Bay past Traverse City St. Francis, 70-61, on Friday. He also starred in Suttons Bay's previous win at St. Francis, for a Class C district title back in March that launched his team all the way to the state championship game. He had to go coast-to-coast for a game-winning layup in that one. Friday, he helped the Norsemen pull away with four straight second-half buckets.

St. Francis' athletic director, Tom Hardy, said this was the first time he's had to cut off ticket sales for the Gladiators' cozy gym. Part of the excitement was due to it being the home debut for new St. Francis coach Keith Haske, who had built a Northern Michigan dynasty at rival Charlevoix, and his own star, 6-9 St. Francis junior Sean Sheldon. But make no mistake, Suttons Bay and Anderson, the area's most talented prospect since Dan Majerle played at Traverse City High in the early 1980s, were the hot draw.

Every game's an event, and Anderson didn't disappoint with three highlight dunks, creative hanging shots around the rim, two step-back three-pointers and some feisty defense on Sheldon. Two dunks were particularly memorable, catching an alley-oop pass throw from just this side of halfcourt, and an and-one which saw him crossover right-to-left then throw down on two defenders. Few would have a wider frame of reference, and Suttons Bay coach Todd Hursey tagged it one of the three best he's seen Anderson put down.�

While the final tally read two assists, Anderson's unselfishness and playmaking ability was evident. He shot an efficient 10-for-17 from the floor, while missing much of the first half with two fouls.

Sheldon showed why he is one of the state's top 10 prospects for 2012, scoring a game-high 27 points. Despite his height, a couple times he faced up and took Anderson off the dribble, and in general drove it really well for a young player his size with a strong first step then the footwork and touch to execute secondary moves once the Suttons Bay defense collapsed.

Penn State had an assistant at the game to watch Sheldon, and the Nittany Lions are one of the Big Ten teams recruiting him along with Michigan, Minnesota and Northwestern. He's been offered by Lehigh, Miami-OH, Toledo, Western Michigan, William & Mary and Wright State.�

Two In A Row For Anderson

The 2010-11 Michigan high school basketball season -- and the next one as well -- should be an interesting one to follow for Michigan State recruiting aficionados. Spartan fans already know which upperclassmen to hone in on as the Spartans are finished recruiting in-state for 2011 and 2012 with Anderson and 6-6 Detroit Southeastern senior Brandan Kearney signed, and 6-9 Bay City Western junior Matt Costello and 6-5 Lansing Sexton junior Denzel Valentine verbally committed.

Then there's the more distant future, as MSU continues to evaluate the state's 2013 contingent, which is rife with high-major backcourt prospects.

Anderson is poised to lead Suttons Bay to a return trip to the Breslin Center after losing to Melvindale Academy for Business and Technology in the 2010 Class C state final. One trip to Anderson's future college home is already guaranteed, though. His Norsemen play another Class C favorite, Saginaw Buena Vista, December 28 at the Meijer Holiday Hoops Invitational.

Anderson is one of three returning starters from a 25-2 team that could be even better, as coach Todd Hursey said its star member is an improved shooter and now going to his right hand better to balance his spectacular left-handed drives.

Like Suttons Bay, Kearney's Southeastern squad has state title aspirations and earned the Detroit News' preseason No. 1 nod despite last year's 16-8 tab. We've come to know Kearney's all-around production after the four-year starter averaged 16 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game as a junior. As a senior the expectations are he'll begin taking over games with the ferocity of a senior who knows this is his last go-round.

Michigan high school fans have trouble saying "Kearney" without Percy Gibson, and the 6-9 senior, who signed with Brian Gregory's Dayton club, was one of the state's most improved players over the summer.

Another senior, guard Ed Brown, is talented in his own right and can take some pressure off Kearney, while 6-5 junior Dazeshawn Crim will be a Division I recruit when he becomes eligible in the second semester after transferring from Detroit Osborn.

There are any number of opportunities for fans to see Kearney and the Jungaleers in major regular season matchups. On December 22 they travel West on I-94 to play defending Class A state champion Kalamazoo Central in the inaugural Don Jackson Invitational. then December 30 there's double the Spartan cache when Southeastern plays in the Motor City Roundball Classic at Detroit Country Day against Gary, Ind. Wallace, which features the crown jewel of MSU's 2011 class, All-American Branden Dawson. After the holidays, Southeastern plays host to its recent rival, Detroit Pershing, and 6-4 Sherron Dorsey-Walker, one of the state's top 5 2012 prospects, Jan. 7, 2011.

There are high expectations at Lansing Sexon, where coach Carlton Valentine's team got better and better as the 2010 season progressed, finishing 21-6 and Class B state runner-up to Detroit Country Day. After Country Day's McDonald's All-American point guard Ray McCallum Jr., Denzel Valentine, but a sophomore, was the second best player on the Breslin court in that state championship game. He's gotten even better, after an off-season with the Michigan Mustangs which saw him at times dominant with his throwback playmaking game.

He's one of three starters back for the Big Reds, with 6-5 senior Tyrin Wade and junior point guard Anthony Clemmons, along with last year's sixth-man, sharp-shooting junior Bryn Forbes. On Jan. 29, 2011 Sexton is at home against traditional Class B power Muskegon Heights, which features one of the state's best freshman, 5-10 Deshawn Thrower.

State title dreams might be a little rich for what is traditionally a basketball backwater like Bay City Western, which was 10-12 last year, but in the Costello tenure the Warriors are no longer a pushover in the rugged Saginaw Valley Association. Western's versatile big man averaged 16.3 points and 11.6 rebounds a game as a sophomore, and he'll have help from a strong senior class. Six-foot-9 senior Brandon Havercamp is an agile and athletic forward who was an early signing local coup for the local D2 team, Saginaw Valley State. Point guard Tyler Ellis is another college-caliber athlete. Costello will face a fellow high-major forwards during the regular season at home against Saginaw and West Virginia signee Tommie McCune, a 6-7 senior, on Feb. 18, 2011.

We'll cover the Michigan State prospects from the 2013 class in depth as the season progresses. Those on the radar include the Lansing Eastern sophomore duo of 6-6 shooter and East Lansing transfer Steven Haney and 5-11 point guard Cha Cha Tucker; Flint Beecher's 5-11 Monte Morris, the best Class C point guard in the state since Tory Jackson (Notre Dame) was at Saginaw Buena Vista; the most athletic 2013 guard in Michigan, Dowagiac's 6-2 Dontel Highsmith; crafty Dion Harris play-alike Lorenzo Bonam, a 6-3 combo guard from Dearborn Heights Robichaud; 5-11 Derrick Walton Jr., who plays for his dad coach Derrick Walton at Harper Woods Chandler Park Academy; smooth 6-7 forward Jackson Lamb of Temperance-Bedford; and a duo of wings who starred for The Family's 15-under team, 6-4 EC Matthews of Romulus and 6-4 James Young from Troy.

Stephen Bell is longtime publisher of and has been one of the most respected basketball recruiting analysts in the Midwest for more than 15 years.

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