During the fourth quarter of Monday night’s road victory over the Kings, coach Jim Boylen called timeout. A double-digit lead had shrunk to single digits. The Bulls have blown similar games before during this season.
As Boylen huddled with his assistant coaches before addressing the players, Denzel Valentine approached the five currently in the game who were sitting on the bench. Even from 15 feet away, it was easy to spot Valentine’s passion and positivity.
“I was just trying to keep us up,” Valentine said late Monday in the postgame locker room. “They were going on a run and I kept saying, ‘We’re good. It’s cool.’ Sometimes when adversity hits us, we struggle. Having that ability to be positive is huge.”
Valentine has natural leadership qualities. Management cited them upon drafting the Michigan State product in 2016.
But Valentine knows as well as anyone a simple truth of sports.
“When you’re playing, your leadership can have more impact. When you’re not playing, you can say the same stuff but you’re not playing,” he said. “When you’re competing, your energy is up. You’re positive. It just naturally comes out of me when I’m playing.”
Valentine finally is.
It may not always be big minutes. It may not be every game, although Valentine has appeared in four straight and logged double-digit minutes in three.
But it’s something. And for a proud competitor who recently found himself behind Shaq Harrison even with Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison sidelined and the Bulls struggling to shoot from 3-point range, that’s better than nothing.
“It’s been cool,” Valentine said. “It definitely feels good to be playing again and competing again. I’m just loving it.”
Valentine said he leaned on his family, agent Austin Brown and his internal confidence to keep him going through his period of inactivity that he knows may come again. In seven games, he’s averaging 4.1 points and 1.9 rebounds in 7.7 minutes and shooting 38.9 percent from 3-point range.
“I’m always going to believe in myself no matter what,” Valentine said. “Whether I play or not, that’s not in my control. I know what I can do. It’s all about the right opportunity. When I get the opportunity, I’m going to make the most of it.”
Against the Kings, Valentine beat the shot clock with a difficult 3-pointer from a tough angle in the corner and followed that with a nifty assist in transition to Daniel Gafford in the third quarter. He also isolated and shot an airball on a 3-pointer as the quarter ended.
But like his season, Valentine persevered. He finished with six points, three rebounds, two steals and an assist in just shy of 12 minutes.
“At the end of the day, I’m blessed to be in the NBA. I’m living my dream job,” Valentine said. “So many people came up to me and told me I’d get an opportunity. And here it is.”
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