Big stage: Jayhawks wary of Spartans, Valentine

Kansas University junior guard Frank Mason III leaps for a loose ball in the opening minutes of the Jayhawks' season opener against Northern Colorado, on Nov. 13, 2015, at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas University junior guard Frank Mason III leaps for a loose ball in the opening minutes of the Jayhawks' season opener against Northern Colorado, on Nov. 13, 2015, at Allen Fieldhouse.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

— Kansas University’s basketball team knows all about Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound senior combo guard from Lansing, Michigan, who is considered a strong candidate for All-Big Ten and national honors in 2015-16.

“Very talented. He made first-team All-American preseason,” KU coach Bill Self said of Valentine, who scored 14 points off 5-of-8 shooting (3-of-5 from three) and grabbed seven rebounds in the Jayhawks’ 61-56 victory over the Spartans in the finals of 2014 Orlando Classic.

“He can shoot. He can really pass,” Self added of one player the Jayhawks hope to contain in a 2015 Champions Classic battle against the Spartans approximately 9 p.m. today in the United Center.

Valentine flirted with a triple double — 13 points, nine assists and eight boards — in Friday’s 82-55 season-opening win over Florida Atlantic.

He actually had a triple-double (14 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) in an exhibition win over Northern Michigan on Nov. 6, eerily similar to another he had in a practice game his junior year — 15 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists against St. Cloud State.

Valentine, who garnered national headlines for hitting the game-winning shot against Ohio State on Valentine’s Day, 2015, would love to notch a triple-double in a regular-season game before he graduates from the East Lansing school. Just three Spartans — Magic Johnson, Draymond Green and Charlie Bell — have had triple-doubles. Johnson actually had eight, Green three and Bell one.

“That would be an honor to have my name with those three people,” Valentine told “To be in that bracket would be huge.”

He averaged 14.5 points, 6.3 boards and 4.3 assists for an MSU team that reached the 2015 Final Four.

“It was a huge moment, and it’s a great feeling,” Valentine told of reaching the big stage. “To get back there is the most important thing in my life right now. And to get further. So that’s what I want to do. I want to leave a legacy here.

“When I was younger that’s all I used to dream about, is building a legacy at Michigan State and being one of the greats and playing here in front of the Izzone (MSU student section) and all of that,” added Valentine, who grew up in the backyard of MSU’s campus. “I work hard and have great people around me, so I might as well leave a legacy because that was one of my goals.”

About MSU: Michigan State is 1-0 after its 82-55 victory over Florida Atlantic on Friday in the Breslin Center in East Lansing. The Spartans return starters in Valentine, senior guard Bryn Forbes (8.5 ppg, 70 threes) and junior guard Tum Tum Nairn (2.2 ppg, 2.4 apg).

“If we improve on it (opener), we’re going to go there and compete, and it’ll be a hell of a game,” coach Tom Izzo told, referring to the KU-MSU contest. “If we don’t improve on it, we’re going to go there and get our butt kicked.”

Noted senior forward Matt Costello (7.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg in 2014-15), who had 15 points and seven boards vs. Florida Atlantic: “Kansas is a beast all its own, so I don’t know of any team in the country that can prepare you for that.”

Junior guard Eron Harris, who had four points in 17 minutes in the opener, is a transfer from West Virginia. “We know first-hand how good a player he is,” Self said.

KU’s win over MSU revisited choppy: In last year’s 61-56 win over Michigan State in Orlando, KU hit 37 percent of its shots, just three of 14 threes. MSU hit 32.2 percent, six of 17 from three.

“Both teams labored to score,” Self said. “They missed a ton of bunnies, point-blank shots. That played to our benefit. Wayne goes 0-for-10. It was not an artistic game at all,” Self added.

Indeed, Wayne Selden Jr. scored five points, all at the line. Svi Mykhailiuk did hit three three-pointers, while Perry Ellis had 17 points and nine boards.

“It was great because we won,” Self said, “but Tom after the game, when we shook hands, he said, ‘You won, but you’re probably just as upset about this as I am or mad about this as I am.’ I said, ‘No, I’m really not,’’’ Self added, noting that he most cares about the ‘W.’

“It (tough early-season game) is a gauge to help you get better down the road. It’s a nice feather to have later on for seeding purposes and getting in the (NCAA) tournament. Basically it gives you a chance to be basically exposed a little bit so you know what you need to do to get better.”

Last year vs. UK not pretty: KU junior Landen Lucas remembers the agony of last year’s 72-40 Champions Classic loss to Kentucky.

“We have no plans of having anything like that happen again,” Lucas said. “That was not something that is OK with us. For the people who were here last year, that’s not acceptable. It doesn’t matter how early in the season it is. With this summer and everything leading up to this, we should be a lot further along than we were (last year). We’ve got to show well and get some momentum. Last year it was like we were starting over afterwards. I don’t want to do that. We’ll be ready for that game for sure.”

The practice following the UK game was not pleasant. “It was a tough one. I remember that. Guys got through it. We got better from that practice,” said senior Evan Manning.