LANSING - All that this kid does is win - championships.
Denzel Valentine nailed the game-winning shot on a 16-footer off the dribble with :05 seconds left to give Team Black a 113-111 victory over Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Team Green in the championship game of the Moneyball Pro-Am Basketball League, Saturday.
It wasn't quite as high-profile as his two Class B state titles at Lansing Sexton. Nor was it was easy, while playing against a McDonald's All-American and MSU teammate in Harris, with the shot-blocking presence of fellow Spartan Payne inside, trying to thwart his advances.
But the crowd of nearly 500 fans at Pattengill Middle School was full of entertained, appreciative smiles after Valentine capped the Moneyball summer league season with a money play.
Valentine, who will be a freshman at Michigan State this fall, scored the game-winner after Payne had tied the game up at 111-111 with a jump hook over Spartan freshman Matt Costello.
"When they scored, I was like, uh-oh, it's a game," Valentine said. "My instinct is I try to be a winner on the court, so I just wanted the ball.
"I looked at the clock and there were :12 seconds left, and I attacked."
Harris, a 6-foot-4 freshman from Fishers, Ind., met Valentine near the hashmark along the right sideline.
Valentine went by him with a crossover dribble.
"Gary reached and then I went to the lane and I saw a clear shot and I said, 'I gotta hit it.' And I hit it," Valentine said.
A minute later, Harris and Valentine - who became roommates at MSU when they enrolled last month - met each other during handshakes. Harris smiled and gave him a playful shove.
"He said I was lucky," Valentine said. "We are probably going to talk about it some more. I don't know what we'll say."
Said Harris: "He probably will probably remind me about it a few times cause it was a good shot. He made a big play; he's used to doing that."
Valentine finished with 19 points, 15 of which came in the second half. He finished with 13 rebounds, 11 of which came in the second half. His work on the defensive boards fueled his team's transition game and helped jet Team Black to a double-digit lead.
Thomas Kelley, who played at Michigan State from 1995-99 and was part of Tom Izzo's first Final Four team in 1999, scored 15 for Team Black. Kelley, who has played professionally in Europe for 12 years - including the last seven in Budapest, Hungary - played lead guard for Team Black most of the night.
Kelley expected to have the ball in his hands in the final seconds, but the teen-aged Valentine stepped forward, ahead of the 30-something-year-old European pro.
"We weren't going to call time out, and I was going to get the ball, run a screen and roll and do what I do," Kelley said with a smile. "But he asked for the ball."
Kelley let the young man roll with it.
"Hey, it's your time," Kelley said, in retrospect. "Go ahead. Take the ball and do your thing.
"He made a pull-up jump shot, which not many kids are doing these days. He had a little crossover on him and sold him and rose up for a good shot."
For those who have seen Valentine play before, his familiar repertoire was on display, including three or four no-look passes.
"It was pretty fun," Valentine said. "All the other weekends, people don't play as hard but tonight was a championship game and everybody came out hard and it was a good game."
Moneyball founder Desmond Ferguson, who was part of the University of Detroit's Sweet 16 team in 1999 and was named the new head coach at Lansing Everett last week, scored 21 for Valentine's team.
"Zel is a player, man," Ferguson said. "He has a high basketball I.Q.. There are a lot of things he can do on the court. He is used to the moment, winning state championships and things like that and that will carry over for him to next season.
"He was doing a little bit of everything for us. He passed, he rebounded, he can defend multiple positions, he can play multiple positions on offense and he did it all summer."
Payne, who will be a junior at MSU this fall, scored 24 points for Team Green on 8-of-19 shooting.
His shot selection was quite different from what MSU fans usually see out of the 6-foot-9 Ohioan. Payne attempted two 3-pointers (which he missed) and a mess of 17-footers and 19-footers. He even tried to drive and create a little bit.
Payne's perimeter game didn't look all that great in this game, but Tom Izzo would probably be in favor of Payne freelancing a little bit and looking to push his offensive envelope.
Last year, Payne played exclusively at center. He split minutes with Derrick Nix at the five. This year, without Draymond Green, the Spartans will need Nix and Payne to play together, rather than subbing in for one another. Payne will need to show face-up skills in playing the four.
"I think Payne is a good enough outside shooter to be a threat as a four in some of the things we do," Izzo said in the current issue of SPARTAN Magazine. "He can pass the ball, handle the ball. He can run."
How About Harris?
Harris was easily the most efficient and impressive player on the court. Harris, who was Mr. Basketball in Indiana last year, was sizzling 13-of-16 from the field.
He turned in the highlight play of the day when he drove to the rim and dunk high and hard over Costello in the first half - about as good as one can do it. Credit Costello for showing up and competing on the play.
Harris went 5-of-7 from 3-point range.
"I was feeling it, and they just kept giving me the ball and it was going down," Harris said. "Teammates were hitting me in good spots."
"I saw a lot out of him today," Kelley said of Harris. "He surprised me with his athleticism, going to the basket, good size, good shooter. Them guys can play, man."
Harris probably had the ability to take this game over, but Team Green teammates didn't keep looking to him often enough.
Costello was held to 5 points, one day after scoring 35 for Team Black in Saturday's semifinal. Team Black had only five players on Saturday, so Costello had to play every minute.
"He seemed a little tired today because he had to play the whole game yesterday, and then Michigan State had practice today (Sunday morning), and then he came out here and he was probably a little tired," Kelley said. "But he is coming in with good size and some meat on him."
Russell Byrd scored 16 points for Team Black. He was 6-of-15 from the floor, including 3-of-7 from beyond Moneyball's NBA-length 3-point line.
This summer, MSU players attended Moneyball games more regularly than in the past. The games were played in a more climate-friendly venue, and the crowds grew as the season progressed.
"It's the biggest crowd we've had over the nine years and it was an entertaining game for them," Ferguson said.
Former Oakland University power forward Derrick Nelson was the dominant scorer for Team Black in the first half. He finished with 32 points.
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