CHICAGO -- Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis handed the phone to Denzel Valentine in the back hallway of the United Center. The senior was fresh off becoming just the fourth player to record a triple-double in school history.
Valentine nodded, said "Yes, sir" a few times and then finally cracked a wide smile after he gave the phone back to Hollis.
It was Magic Johnson on the other end of the phone, one of the three other Spartans, along with Draymond Green and Charlie Bell, to record one of the school's now-13 triple-doubles.
"He congratulated me and asked me what my favorite part of the triple-double was," Valentine said after finishing with 29 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists in No. 13 Michigan State's 79-73 win against No. 4 Kansas.
"Assists," Valentine laughed. "It was Magic. What else could I possibly say?"
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Valentine knows he doesn't look the part, and the NBA scouts aren't nearly as enamored with him as they are with, say, LSU freshman Ben Simmons or even Kentucky freshman Skal Labissiere.
Those guys have length and athleticism that the pros drool over. Valentine does not.
But on a night in which Labissiere spent much of his time as an observer in a win over Duke, Valentine went out and delivered the performance of the young season, with more than 50 NBA executives and scouts in attendance. He has to play point guard for much of the game out of pure necessity -- and committed just a single turnover in 38 minutes against the Jayhawks.
Valentine put himself, and his Spartans, on the map in the process. Kentucky had dispatched Duke with ease just hours earlier, but all anyone was talking about in the arena after the second game of the doubleheader was Valentine's electrifying performance.
"I felt disrespected," Valentine said. "We made it to the Final Four last year and we've got a lot of players back from that team. My dad put it in my ear before the game. We were ranked 13th and the other teams were all higher than us. It is what it is, but I wanted to prove people wrong."
Valentine took care of all the naysayers on this night, showing he was more than capable of carrying the Spartans on his back and also making certain people now take this team -- one that lost Travis Trice and Branden Dawson -- seriously as legitimate national title contenders.
But it wasn't just those outside the Michigan State locker room who weren't sold that Valentine could handle all the responsibilities that were thrown his way. It was also Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who challenged Valentine after the Spartans escaped the first half fortunate to trail only by six. Izzo told him great leaders are able to find a way to get to their teammates, even when they aren't playing well. And that meant going after his childhood friend and high school teammate, Bryn Forbes, and his roommate, Eron Harris.
"I asked him if he wanted me to do it or whether he could do it," Izzo said. "And he did it."
Green even added to the fire, calling Valentine on Sunday night and going through every guy on the Spartans roster and what they couldn't do in a ploy to motivate his former teammate.
"I wanted to prove him wrong, also," Valentine said.
Valentine provided the leadership and the big plays down the stretch, scoring 21 points after the break to go along with six rebounds, five assists and not a single turnover after halftime. There was a 3-pointer with 4:40 left, then an up-and-under move with a little more than two minutes remaining, a bucket high off the glass with 1:25 to go, and a pair of free throws with 29 seconds left that iced the game.
"He totally controlled the game," Kansas coach Bill Self said after watching Valentine carve up the Jayhawks. "He's not the quickest guy, but he's got great vision and never gets in a hurry."
"I wasn't blessed with a ton of physical tools like some other guys," Valentine admitted. "But I was blessed with leadership and courage."
Valentine thanked everyone after the game -- from the coaches to just about each and every player. Freshman Matt McQuaid knocked down a pair of huge 3s late in the game, fellow senior Matt Costello finished a rebound shy of a double-double, and Deyonta Davis hit a pair of free throws in the waning seconds.
But this was Valentine's night, almost a coming out party. He's as versatile as anyone in the nation, and put up a stat line that even he couldn't believe.
"I've never done that in my life," Valentine said.
"That's the best I've ever seen him play," added Forbes. "And I've been playing with him since we were 7 years old."
Valentine is no longer the "little chunker," as Forbes affectionately referred to him when he was a teenager at Sexton High in Lansing, Michigan. He's worked on his body, and shed some of the baby fat. However, the NBA guys remain skeptical.
"He's a really good college player," one NBA exec said after watching the game from the stands. "That was an incredible performance. I'm still not sure if his game translates to our level, but a lot of people said the same thing about Draymond Green and look what he's doing."
"He's not that sexy," Izzo said. "But this made him sexier."