When researching for these articles, I rarely walk away completely shocked and dumbstruck as to why I didn’t know more about the player in question. It happened when I wrote about Bill Bridges, and it happened again here while I was researching Darnell Valentine.
The 6’1” guard from Wichita Heights High School was an instant impact player for the Jayhawks. As a freshman in 1977-78, he averaged 13.5 points per game and shot 48% from the field. For his sophomore campaign, his minutes increased (from 26 per game to 32), and his points and production increased as a result. He averaged 16.1 points per game that season and also averaged 5.9 assists per game, up more than one assist per game from his freshman numbers.
Valentine was awarded with the KU player of the year award at the team banquet and was also named to the All-Big 8 first team in each of his first two seasons in Lawrence. It was a nice start to a career that would only get better.
His statistics during his junior season were almost perfectly equivalent to the ones he posted in his sophomore year, and again he was the team MVP and a first team all conference selection. His biggest individual recognition probably came after the 1979-80 season when Valentine was selected as a member of the United States’ Olympic team. Unfortunately for Darnell and other Americans, the Games were being held in Moscow and the US boycotted those Olympics.
During his senior season, Valentine scored at a 15.6 point per game clip and averaged 5.3 assists. He also snagged 92 steals in that 1980-81 campaign. Those 92 steals are still a Kansas record, one that is not likely to be broken any time soon. He averaged 2.9 steals per game that season and his 336 steals for a career is a KU record as well. He averaged 2.8 steals per game over his 118 games for KU. Not bad.
That senior year also saw Darnell grab first team All-Big 8 honors. In doing so, he became the first player in the history of the conference to be named to the first team in all four of his collegiate seasons. He was named an All-American following his senior season.
Valentine finished his KU career as the second highest scorer in the history of the school behind only Clyde Lovellette (he is currently 6th, passed over by Danny manning, Nick Collison, Raef LaFrentz, and Sherron Collins in subsequent years) and one can only imagine where he’d be on that list if the three-point arc existed while he was a collegian.
As it stands, he finished his Kansas career with 1,821 points and 609 assists. That assist number ranks him fifth on the all time charts at KU making him the only guy to rank in the top six in both of these categories at Kansas. He was a guard that could score as well as pass and would be an asset to any program around the country.
Valentine was drafted into the NBA with the 16th pick of the 1981 draft by the Portland Trail Blazers. He stayed in Portland for five seasons and spent parts of four others with the Los Angeles Clippers and Cleveland Cavaliers. He retired from the NBA in after averaging nine points and five assists over nine years.