Before Monday night, April 1, 2018, is the last time Denzel Valentine played in an NBA game. And that’s no April Fool’s joke.
For a full season, he rehabilitated a reconstructed left ankle, mostly disconnected from his teammates and fully separated from the game he loves.
So it shouldn't surprise to hear the fourth-year swingman admit that his drive to the United Center for Monday's preseason opener against the Bucks proved overwhelming.
"I shed a tear on the way over to the arena," Valentine said. "It's just very emotional for me. This is my passion. This is what I love. It's huge being healthy and being out there again."
Valentine finished with 11 points, five rebounds and two steals in just over 19 minutes of playing time. He shot 3-for-12, including 2-for-7 from 3-point range.
"I played OK," Valentine said. "I think I missed a lot of easy one that I usually make in the second half. I think I started off hot. Defensively, I could've been a little better, being the captain out there, taking my matchup on better. But overall I think I did decent.
"I felt good. The ankle feels great. The body feels good. I played hard."
Valentine shot 38.6 percent from 3-point range in 2017-18 before needing the surgery that sidelined him all of last season. His shotmaking and playmaking could be boosts to a reserve unit that lacks wing depth.
"He made his first couple shots," coach Jim Boylen said. "We've always said he takes the lid off the rim for us. He has the ability to make plays. Not only him but a couple guys got a little bounce happy. We overdribbled a little. We'll work on that. But Denzel is a winning kid and smart basketball player. I'm just thankful he's playing. Seeing him out there running around brings a little joy to you after what he went through."
"It's been a long time, man," he said. "I'm just blessed to be playing again with my teammates."Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.