Dec. 16, 2010
MADISON, Wis. -- On the surface, it was just another basket in the big scheme of things; a 3-point hit from the right of the key that had little bearing on the outcome, a 76-61 victory over South Dakota. Brett Valentyn sank the shot, slapped palms with Jordan Taylor and got back on defense.
But whenever Valentyn steps on the floor, let alone scores, you realize that it's the culmination of four-plus years of sacrifice and commitment as a UW walk-on. What makes it even more meaningful is when he plays six minutes in the first half of a game and gets into the mix with the starters.
Like he did against South Dakota.
Like he did against UNLV.
It's not like Valentyn, a fifth-year senior from Verona, is going to run out and hire an agent, though he talks to one on a regular basis. More on that later. What it does mean is that Valentyn can be trusted by the coaches to contribute beyond practice and his daily chores on the scout team.
That can mean everything.
"Being a walk-on, you take what you can get,'' Valentyn said. "And if you get on the floor, you have to go in there with the mindset you have nothing to lose and make the best of your opportunity. I'm always ready to go in but I know I have to keep proving myself in practice.''
Being a walk-on, you take whatever they dish out, too.
"The biggest thing we tell them is that they have to understand their role,'' said UW associate head coach Greg Gard. "It's not pretty. They may never play. They do all the dirty work. They get screened and banged and pushed and shoved and hit by all of the guys in the regular rotation.
"They have to run just as many hills; they have to lift just as much weight. But if you're looking at their sacrifices and what they put into the program - in terms of what few minutes they actually get out on the floor during a game - you realize that it's a huge commitment.
"A normal student on campus who's paying for his education may have the time to do other things (even work part-time). But a walk-on almost ends up having a 40-hour job - what with practice, lifting, study halls and other time commitments. They have to do all of that, plus pay their own way.''
Valentyn was a good enough high school player to have some options, especially after helping lead Verona to a 21-3 record and its first appearance in the WIAA state tournament. He seriously considered going to a state school: UW-Whitewater, Platteville, Stevens Point and La Crosse.
He also drew interest from some Division II programs.
"I took some visits but I didn't find exactly what I was looking for,'' Valentyn said. "So I started to investigate whether I could walk-on at a bigger school. That's when I got the call from coach (Bo Ryan).''
Valentyn was invited to join the Badgers as a walk-on, and he accepted - not knowing for sure what he was getting himself into as a member of a freshman class that also included Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes. What he did know was that he was overwhelmed by the surroundings.
"I was practicing with Alando Tucker and Kam Taylor - right in the middle of it all - and I had just been watching them on TV the year before,'' said Valentyn, who redshirted as a freshman. "That first year was a huge adjustment. There was a level of awe that factored into it. But I had to get used to it.''
When the scout team needs to stretch the defense and simulate an opponent's outside shooter, Valentyn will usually get the call because of his perimeter skills. Despite his shooting prowess, he has tinkered with the mechanics of his shot over the last two seasons with mixed results.
"I've changed my shot dramatically since I came here,'' he said. "In high school, I held the ball a little over to my left side and I had a little hitch in it. I learned quickly it's tough to get a shot off. When you get the ball, you have to have a quick release, especially at my size. I can't jump super high.
"Last summer, I made the mistake of changing my shot again, and I made it too mechanical and too rigid,'' he said. "I was trying to get the rotation perfect all the time. I know guys have a lot of different forms and techniques. As long as I'm feeling good, I feel like I can knock some down.''
While he's not as physically imposing as a Wquinton Smith, another walk-on, Valentyn is not afraid to get knocked down. By taking charges he has endeared himself to the coaching staff. Less than two weeks into training camp, Valentyn was leading the team in charges taken during practice.
"In high school, I was bigger and longer (than the people he faced) and I tried to block some shots,'' he said. "Now I try to get position defensively and make sure I'm in the right spots.
"You have to be willing to put your body on the line. That's what Coach (Ryan) teaches. You have to stick your nose in there and get dirty. If your draw the foul, it's a turnover and you get the ball.''
Valentyn's competitiveness has helped him survive as a walk-on.
"Growing up, I was a part of winning teams,'' he said. "I've always been a guy where the main thing is winning. That hasn't really changed. Of course, in my earlier years, I wanted to be out on the floor, but I understood that my role was to work out these guys in practice. Whatever it takes.''
During the off-season, it seemed like Valentyn was always taking on Jordan Taylor.
"Being one of the older guys, I brought the ball up a lot and guarded Jordan pretty much the whole summer,'' he said. "That was fun and frustrating at the same time. I think it made me a lot better. Because he's such a competitor, it was fun going against him. But he's a tough son-of-a-gun.''
That would be a reality check. In this context, Valentyn understand his limitations. "The key for players like Brett is understanding their role,'' Gard said. "He definitely epitomizes that.''
But nothing can prepare you for the grind; the wear and tear, physically and mentally. "It's tough,'' Valentyn conceded. "But I love it. I wouldn't trade it for anything.''
His family has been very supportive: mom (Nancy) and dad (Tim), older sister (Kenzi) and younger brother (Connor). "Definitely a lot of work,'' he said. "Definitely worth it.''
Tim Valentyn knows something about work ethic and how far it can carry someone.
His clients all possess that quality.
In addition to being the president and managing shareholder of Murphy Desmond S.C., Valentyn has been a Madison-based sports agent for nearly two decades.
Among his clients are Ryan, UW hockey coach Mike Eaves, Badger offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, North Dakota State basketball coach Saul Phillips and Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy.
Valentyn also represents athletes, including former UW safety Jim Leonhard, who was injured last week during a New York Jets practice and lost for the remainder of the season.
"It would be cool to do something like he's doing,'' said Brett Valentyn, a three-time academic All-Big Ten choice. "Somewhere down the road I could see myself doing that. We talk about it a lot.
"I'm applying for jobs right now. I majored in finance and real estate and I'm looking to get a job in that area. I've considered law school and I did take the law school exam.
"Those test scores last for five years so if I want to work for a couple of years and then decide, I can. Ultimately I will probably do some law.
"Right now, being in basketball, you really don't get a chance to do internships. I don't know what I'm really good at yet or what I really like. I need to get out there and get some experience.''
Which he has been doing from time-to-time in games this season.
Six minutes here, six minutes there. That can mean everything to a walk-on.