Bulls guard Denzel Valentine learned two valuable lessons this offseason. First, never show up at the Drew League in Los Angeles just looking to do “some light conditioning.”
And, more important, when talking smack, never mess with a guy nicknamed “Nitty” — after former mob enforcer Francesco Raffaele Nitto, a.k.a. “Frank Nitti.”
Those missteps landed Valentine, the Bulls’ 2016 first-round draft pick, on TMZ Sports and all over social media, for all the wrong reasons.
“Lesson learned,’’ he said.
It was in late July that Valentine showed up to the famous pro-am Drew League, where he was matched up with Frank “Nitty’’ Session. Valentine, the 2016 AP College Basketball Player of the Year, put the L.A. sneaker store salesman on a spin cycle, taking him to the rim for an easy layup early in the game.
That’s where the stories differ.
Session told reporters afterward that Valentine disrespected him by saying, “That’s why I’m in the league.” Valentine, when asked if he’d said something to Nitty, said, “Nah, not really. It is what it is. I’m glad he played good that day. That’s what he’s supposed to do.”
“Played good”? Session, the two-time Drew League MVP, who was raised in Watts, went on to score 44 points with 11 rebounds, mostly against Valentine, telling him about every basket along the way. NBA All-Stars Isaiah Thomas and DeMar DeRozan were courtside witnesses.
“I mean, he played good that day,” Valentine said. “It’s a league out there. It’s pro-am. Guys are just going out there kind of just playing.
“I didn’t really care that much about it, but it kind of made me realize who I am, and every time I step on the court, no matter where I am, whether it’s the park or I’m in [the Advocate Center], it’s for real. Made me realize that. It definitely was a lesson. Kind of glad it happened.”
So was Session, who has now abused a list of NBA players including Nate Robinson, Gilbert Arenas and even DeRozan. All-Star Damian Lillard once said Session is the best non-NBA player he has ever faced.
Valentine should have done his homework.
“Guys there, their agenda is to kill you,” he said. “I realized that going in, but I was being a little naïve when I walked into that situation. It was something where I just wanted to get a sweat in and see the atmosphere and I didn’t see what I was getting myself into at the time. But it’s no excuse.’’
These days, Valentine has bigger concerns. He sprained his ankle last week in training camp and is trying to get back in time for the start of the regular season so he can contribute off the bench.
There will, however, be a next offseason. The Drew League isn’t going anywhere. So will Valentine go back for some revenge?
“Yeah, I’ll go back,” he said. “Next time I’ve just got to go in there and be ready to play, rather than go in there just for some light conditioning, you know? I’ve got to be ready to play. Trust me, I’m not scared.”
Maybe he should be.