LAS VEGAS -- Denzel Valentine lived out the reality every young basketball player dreams of on Saturday. The difference is that Valentine, the Chicago Bulls' first-round draft pick from Michigan State, envisioned playing in this particular setting, in the Las Vegas Summer League, more than most.
"It felt great to see my last name on there," Valentine said of putting on his Bulls jersey for the first time in a pro game. "I used to come to these games [in Las Vegas], used to play AAU, when I was like 14 to 17, so I used to come out here and watch these games, and to finally put on a uniform and play is incredible."
Valentine didn't shoot the ball as well as he would have liked, going just 4-for-16 from the field and 0-for-9 from 3-point range in a 71-62 victory over the Boston Celtics, but his teammates were impressed by some of the things he did on the floor. The Bulls loved the "versatility" in Valentine's game when they selected him in last month's draft, and that was on display at times, especially when he ran the point.
"There was three or four times I could have scored but I wasn't even looking for the ball and he passed it to me," Bulls big man Bobby Portis said. "Hopefully tomorrow I get it right. I kind of messed up four assists for him, but it's OK, though. That was our first time playing together."
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg is hopeful Valentine can be a primary ball handler for the team as he develops his game over the season.
“I think so," Hoiberg said before Saturday's game. "And again, there’s going to be lineups I envision, and I’ve kind of talked about this with Jimmy [Butler]. If you put him [Butler] out there with Denzel and somebody else can have the ball in their hands, then you can have multiple people that can initiate your offense. And again, I think that’s a great luxury to have. You can have different lineups with multiple ball handlers, and that’s a good thing to have."
Valentine said he needed to work on his conditioning as he focuses on becoming a rotational player in his first NBA season, but the 22-year-old seemed pleased to get that first game under his belt. It was Valentine's first contest since his Spartans lost to Middle Tennessee State in a first-round stunner in the 2016 NCAA tournament. The attitude and temperament that impressed the Bulls was on display as Valentine spoke in the back of a crowded Cox Pavilion.
"My shot wasn't falling but other than that I tried to do all the little things," he said. "Defend, get some rebounds, add energy to the team, lead. And even if my shot's not falling I can bring other things to the floor. And with my shot falling, that would just be a bonus."