At 6-3 and 323 pounds, Travonte Valentine isn’t what most AAU basketball coaches would consider a prototypical power forward.
But the way the 18-year-old University of Miami football recruit “moves all that weight around” is pretty rare, and why he has been selected to play in January’s U.S. Army All-American Game in San Antonio as one of the nation’s elite high school defensive tackles.
“Tray is a beast on the boards and at swatting shots,” said David Johnson, who has coached Valentine for the past 10 years on the Brevard Elite AAU basketball team in Central Florida and believes Valentine, a Hialeah Champagnat senior-to-be, could earn a college scholarship for basketball, as well.
“Back in February we were in a tournament in North Carolina. Kid had a fast break, went up for a layup and Tray came up behind him and blocked the ball off the backboard and into the stands. The ball was above rim above where the square starts on the backboard when he got his hand on it.”
Valentine isn’t sure what his vertical leap is, but he knows his athleticism is exactly why ESPN and 247Sports.com rank him among the top 150 players in the nation regardless of his position in the Class of 2014. Being big doesn’t necessarily mean being fat, Valentine said.
His daily morning workouts with his uncle include 25 100-yard sprints in the sand at the beach, 1,000 sit-ups and pushups, agility training ladder drills and then weight training. Valentine, who turns 19 in November, said he recently produced 15 reps of 315 pounds on the bench press. UM’s top offensive and defensive linemen bench press 225 pounds (the NFL testing standard) between 25 and 35 times.
“The first time I dunked was in the seventh grade,” said Valentine, who was 6-2, 288 pounds when he finally began taking football seriously as a freshman three years ago at Bayside High in Melbourne.
“But I won’t be doing any of that at Miami. I’ll sit down to watch those games. My goal [at UM] is to be a leader, get my degree [in sports medicine] and work hard every day to get to the NFL.”
Valentine still has a long way to go before he gets to Coral Gables — and most of it involves the classroom. Valentine said he needs to take five core courses (American Government, Math, English, Science and Reading) during the summer at Champagnat and online to make up for the courses he either didn’t take or struggled in before. Assuming he stays focused, his mother said, he will graduate a year from now and begin classes at UM soon after.
“That’s the reason I sent him down there to Miami to get away from the distractions up here, be in a smaller setting where he would focus on sports and school,” said Valentine’s mother, Darlene Samuel, who sent her eldest of six kids to live with her sister, whose husband is the brother of Champagnat coach Mike Tunsil.
“Travonte’s never been a bad kid, but he was always the big man on campus, felt like he could get away with anything like not turning in his homework or taking class seriously. Now he is.”
Small classrooms and academics are a big reason Samuel said she likes UM and why she encouraged her son to commit to the Hurricanes after they visited the campus unofficially last Wednesday. Valentine, who had previously orally committed to play for Louisville and Florida last year, said he’s done bouncing among college choices.
“I can’t see myself nowhere else but Miami,” said Valentine, who received his UM offer after attending Al Golden’s summer camp after his freshman year at Bayside. “Once my mom went with me last week and told me she wanted me to go to Miami, that’s when I pulled the trigger.”
UM, which currently has 20 commitments in its Class of 2014, including three defensive tackles, has sorely been in search of a dominant big man for the middle of its defense. Miami finished the 2012 season ranked 112th in run defense by allowing 217 rushing yards per game, and a big reason was the average to poor play of the defensive tackles.
UM has a lot of youth and inexperience behind starters Olsen Pierre and Curtis Porter. Dequan Ivery, who played in five games and made three tackles last season as a freshman, is no longer with the program, according to UM. That leaves sophomores Earl Moore (6-1, 300) and Corey King (6-1, 295) as the future along with whoever else Miami reels in next February.
But Griffin still needs to improve his ACT score, so the basketball staff can’t be certain he will enroll in December. If Griffin gets into UM this winter, he plans to play football as well, beginning in the 2014 season.