LAS VEGAS The word “dream” comes up a lot at the Las Vegas Summer League. For some, it comes true. For others, it drives them to keep trying.
For Donte DiVincenzo, becoming a first-round pick in the NBA Draft isn’t a dream come true, it’s the last box checked on a prediction made several years ago.
During his junior year at Salesianum, he told one of his coaches that he wanted to win a state championship, become player of the year, win a national championship in college and be a first-round pick in the NBA.
Four years later, DiVincenzo finds himself with each of those goals accomplished after the Milwaukee Bucks chose him with the No. 17 pick in the NBA Draft.
“It’s all been a whirlwind, honestly,” DiVincenzo said.
DiVincenzo isn’t kidding when he says the last few months have felt “back to back to back.”
Before the Bucks picked him in June, DiVincenzo won a national title with Villanova in March, declared for the draft in April, and had a standout performance at the NBA Combine in May.
Since then, he’s gone through the gauntlet that comes with being one of the first 30 names called in Brooklyn: media requests, official introductions, even throwing out the first pitch at a Milwaukee Brewers game.
Now, he has a little time to focus on what has brought him so much attention.
“This last week, when we were in the little mini-camp we had, that was my time to take a deep breath,” DiVincenzo said. “I was spending time with guys on the team, and that’s when it really sunk in.”
It seemed like nothing could slow DiVincenzo down, but a right groin injury has kept him out of Milwaukee’s first three summer league games. DiVincenzo said he suffered the injury a few weeks ago and has received treatment since arriving in Milwaukee.
Although he expressed his desire to put on a Bucks uniform and play in Las Vegas, the time off has allowed him to take a step away and begin to adjust to the professional game.
“It’s different terminologies and everything like that, spacing is different, but basketball is basketball,” he said. “We’ve been playing it our whole life, so when you go out there and just play basketball, everything is easy.”
Whether or not DiVincenzo suits up in Las Vegas, he’ll gun for a spot in the rotation as the season draws closer. A summer league debut pales in comparison to a regular season one, but before that happens, DiVincenzo has something that has seemed rare since the national championship game: time. His plan on how he wants to use that time is simple.
“Get better and improve,” he said. “Get my health right, right now. To play as hard as possible in the Summer League, and then getting ready into training camp. Just building confidence with everybody, all the vets on the Bucks.”
Carrying the weight of a state
As his profile grew throughout the NCAA Tournament, so did the popularity of his “Michael Jordan of Delaware” moniker, which Villanova head coach Jay Wright gave him as a nod to his “rock star” status in high school.
Brendan Haley, Divincenzo’s coach at Salesianum, said Wright had concerns about whether he would have to deal with a big ego once DiVincenzo arrived at Villanova, but that was far from the case. In fact, Wright believes the attention he received while at Salesianum helps DiVincenzo handle the hype.
“I told all the guys in the NBA, he expects to be a star,” Wright said. “He’s used to being a star, and he handles it well. You’re going to like how he stays humble, he stays professional, and I’m watching him do it right now.”
When it comes to representing the state of Delaware, Wright said DiVincenzo takes pride in being from Delaware but has a “really narrow focus” on the goal in front of him. Haley said that his former star embraces the responsibility and believes DiVincenzo doesn’t think about it too much.
“People talk about getting packages so they could watch Bucks games,” Haley said. “It’s amazing the effect he’s had on Delaware in terms of pride.”
The amount of support he receives from the local community surprised the coach, considering DiVincenzo played for what Haley proclaimed as the “evil empire” at Salesianum.
Wright said, “If Salesianum is the evil empire, he was the evil assassin that everybody was going after, and I was very impressed with how he handled it.”
Staying plugged in with Villanova
Anything that can make a rookie’s transition easier is critical to early success, including having others to share that experience. For DiVincenzo, he said he keeps in touch with his former Villanova teammates Jalen Brunson, Omari Spellman and Mikal Bridges, all of whom are playing in Las Vegas.
“It’s dope to see Mikal, JB, Donte all make it,” said Spellman, who is on the Atlanta Hawks. “It’s just a blessing that we’re here. It’s a blessing that we got here the way that we did.”
That quartet is the latest in a recent stream of Villanova Wildcats to flood the professional ranks. Villanova sent three assistant coaches to catch up with them as well as other former players, Daniel Ochefu, Kris Jenkins and Ryan Arcidiacono.
The fact that all those players keep in touch with each other doesn’t surprise Wright, who takes “a great amount of pride” that his players are close. That connection is particularly helpful for DiVincenzo, the lone rookie on Milwaukee’s roster.
“Some guys have two draft picks that they can turn to one another,” DiVincenzo said. “But I turn to Jalen, Mikal and Omari.”
A last-second decision
After his record-breaking performance in the national title game, it wasn’t shocking DiVincenzo declared for the draft. His stock was likely as high as it could be, which led some to wonder why he decided to participate in the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. It seemed that he had little to gain as he already played himself into a borderline first-round prospect.
Right from the first day, however, DiVincenzo turned heads. His 42-inch vertical leap tied for first at the event. When scrimmages began, he continued his impressive run of play, and Wright knew his star guard was gone.
Wright heard around 16 teams had DiVincenzo graded as a first-round pick, and a couple days before the May 30 deadline, they both knew what was going to happen.
“I said, ‘Look, you’re in great shape, you got to go,’” Wright said. “(DiVincenzo) said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to go. I’m not going to announce it until the 30th. I’m going to go.’”
About a month later on draft night, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver walked to the podium with Milwaukee’s decision in hand. Silver called DiVincenzo’s name, hugs were shared, and a moment DiVincenzo predicted four years before came to fruition.
“It’s a dream come true to come play for the Milwaukee Bucks,” he said. “As the draft was going on, certain teams passed, I was hoping Milwaukee would pick me up, and thankfully they did, and I’m just going to give my all to them.”