Donte DiVincenzo’s plan was to come out and test the NBA draft waters this spring, with the expectation that he would be returning to Villanova for another season.
And then the national championship game happened.
The hero of Villanova’s win over Michigan picked the perfect moment to play the game of his life – 31 points on 10 for 15 shooting, five 3-pointers, five rebounds, one epic wink as the Wildcats put the game away. That’s what probably got him an invite to the Draft Combine, the event where DiVincenzo saw how he might fit at the NBA level.
His name will likely be called in the first round on Thursday night, guaranteed millions set to come his way. Not bad for a kid who came off the bench for most of his college career and wasn’t even picked as a Big East first-teamer, second-teamer or even honorable mention this past season. He did get recognized by the league as its top sixth man after a season where he averaged 13.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.
”When I get into a system, I’m so worried about the team,” DiVincenzo said. ”I’m not worried about the numbers. I’m just worried about one, winning and two, the impact I have on a team whether it’s in the locker room or on the court. If I can do anything to help the team, then I’ll do that. That’s what I tried to do at Villanova this past year.”
His numbers at the combine were probably as eye-popping as what he did in the national title game. No one at the combine in Chicago last month had a higher vertical leap than DiVincenzo – 42 inches with a running start, 34 1/2 inches when standing. He also impressed scouts with his shooting ability, and didn’t need long to decide that his best move was to stay in the draft.
Some may have been surprised by his numbers in Chicago. Nova Nation was not.
”He works his butt off and he deserves all this,” said now-former Villanova guard Jalen Brunson, The Associated Press’ national player of the year this past season who’s also in this draft. ”And just to see where he’s come from since us rooming together freshman year to seeing how his work ethic has gotten better every day … he just goes at everybody. He just has that mindset that he’s a killer. And that’s what makes him special.”
There’s a price of fame, in that it also comes with a much higher level of scrutiny – which put DiVincenzo in a tough spot after the national championship game. While the Wildcats were celebrating and he was being named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, some of his old tweets were creating headlines as well.
Those posts, mostly from between 2011 through 2013, included racially insensitive and homophobic comments. DiVincenzo’s account, which had been dormant since 2016, was shut down not long afterward.
”It’s crazy, good and bad,” DiVincenzo said when asked if he was surprised how much more attention he’s gotten since the national championship game. ”Everything with the Twitter thing that came out, that was bad. But people who know me, people who know who I am, they understand that’s not me. I just try to carry myself as more than just a basketball player.”
If teams had reservations about his tweeting choices from years ago, their concerns seem to be satisfied. DiVincenzo came away from the combine process convinced that he’ll be a first-rounder.
”Donte has handled this process intelligently and received very positive feedback from the NBA teams about his prospects in this year’s draft,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said last month when DiVincenzo opted to stay in the draft. ”We fully support this decision.”
He has some interesting nicknames.
For a while teammates called him Buddy Hield, because when the Wildcats were getting ready to play Oklahoma in the 2016 Final Four – a 44-point national semifinal romp for Villanova – DiVincenzo’s role in practice was to mimic the game of the Sooners’ star. And once in practice, where DiVincenzo was apparently showboating, Wright dubbed him ”the Michael Jordan of Delaware.”
Truth be told, Wright doesn’t remember that exchange with the Delaware native.
”He said I said it to him facetiously in his freshman year when he was acting like a superstar and I said to him: `You act like you’re the Michael Jordan of Delaware,”’ Wright said.
Those days are gone, regardless.
DiVincenzo might be going to Jordan’s league, but he knows that he still has plenty to prove – to others, and himself.
”Even if I work out by myself, I try to always prove something and not try to prove that I’m good or not trying to prove that I’m athletic,” DiVincenzo said. ”I try to prove that there’s something deeper in me and that I’m just scratching the surface right now. I try to get better every single day and that’s what I’m trying to prove – that I’m getting better, that nothing will stop me from getting better.”
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