Published February 05, 2013
EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State needs freshman Denzel Valentine to turn his potential into production.
"I'm expecting big things out of him," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said.
The versatile guard likely will play an expanded role when the 12th-ranked Spartans (18-4, 7-2 Big Ten) host No. 18 Minnesota (18-4, 5-4) on Wednesday night.
"He's not a freshman anymore," Izzo said. "One way or another, we're going to need him."
Backup point guard Travis Trice wasn't in uniform during Monday's practice while starting shooting guard Gary Harris participated in some drills with his teammates. Trice and Harris were both knocked out of last week's win against Illinois. Harris had back spasms. Trice had a head injury and needs to pass a concussion test to play.
Izzo said he doubts Trice will be in the lineup against the Golden Gophers and said Harris probably will be able to play.
"If those two guys couldn't play, we are down to the nitty gritty," Izzo said.
Harris said he's feeling better after dealing with back spasms for the first time. He hopes to play Wednesday.
Valentine played for his father, Carton, a former Spartan, in high school and led Lansing Sexton to two straight Class B state championships. When Izzo was an assistant, Carlton Valentine was playing for former Michigan State coach Jud Heathcote. Now that Izzo is in charge of the program, and is coaching his son, he tries to avoid being an overbearing presence.
"He trusts the coaches," Denzel Valentine said. "He doesn't need to overdo it because I get enough of it out here."
Valentine and reporters chuckled because he often catches the wrath of his intense coach.
"My dad was kind of that like," he said. "He got after us, too. It has been passed down from generation to generation. He played here, and he learned after Jud and coach (Izzo) learned after Jud. I was kind of prepared for. It's nothing I can't handle. Coach is a good coach who gets you motivated in certain ways."
Valentine is coming off perhaps his best game and the timing might be perfect for his team.
He scored a season-high 14 points to help Michigan State rally in the second half to beat the Fighting Illini. He also grabbed three rebounds, made two assists and had a steal.
"I needed a game like this to get my confidence back, especially with Travis gone and Gary out," Valentine said.
More importantly for the team, he had only one turnover. In Valentine's last six games, he has had two turnovers once and one or fewer in every other game. The previous seven games, he averaged three-plus turnovers.
After getting frustrated by Valentine's carelessness with the ball, Izzo is starting to trust him again.
"What's the main difference in games?" Izzo asked. "It's turnovers. It doesn't matter what sport."
Valentine insisted he would feel pressure to perform no matter what school he chose to attend, then acknowledged he does have more people watching him closely — and staying in touch with him — because he's playing next to his hometown. And, he's the son of a former Spartans standout.
"I try not to feed into everybody texting me and calling me about what I need to do and what I need not to do," he said. "I just need to listen to my coaches and teammates and coaches and I'll be fine."
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