He sat in the front of his dad’s car with a tear in his eye, the weight of the decision ahead of him — and the reality that came with the obvious choice — almost too much to bear as he exited the specialist’s office and had a heart-to-heart with his father.
Drew Valentine had multiple basketball-playing options. Offers from teams in Belgium and Germany, his father said, were there waiting to be signed. But he had just toughened out a grueling senior season at Michigan’s Oakland University, where he had averaged 10.2 points and 6.5 rebounds per game despite barely practicing due to knee problems, and the idea of putting his body through that again gave the family enough pause to at least visit an orthopedic surgeon who had worked with his father before.
The prognosis was clear: Play basketball if you wish, but there’s no guarantee you won’t be walking like your old man when you’re done.
“And at that point, I had just gotten a total knee replacement,” Carlton Valentine, himself a veteran of the European circuit, said Tuesday. “So, Coach (Tom) Izzo had offered you a long time ago. He said, ‘When you’re done playing, I need somebody like you to come on and be a grad assistant and you can start your career.’ ”
The elder Valentine said this on Tuesday near the baseline of Gentile Arena, at the culmination of the journey into coaching that his son had begun eight years ago. Minutes earlier, Drew Valentine was introduced as Loyola Chicago’s newest head men’s basketball coach. Carlton and Kathy Valentine had hustled up to Rogers Park from the house they had just built in the Tampa, Fla., suburbs to be here for Drew’s first news conference. Drew, who at 29 is believed to be the youngest head coach in the country, choked up from the podium while looking down at his emotional parents in the front row. He choked up when talking about his pregnant wife, Taylor, and their future daughter, arriving in July. He really choked up when talking about his brother Denzel, who, like Taylor, could not be in attendance for one of the first in-person Chicago sports press events in over a year, as the Bulls were playing in Indianapolis later that night.