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Donte DiVincenzo had to sit out the NBA Finals, but his Villanova connections know his presence was felt during the Bucks’ title run

DiVincenzo proves he's the ultimate winner after capturing championships at the high school, college and NBA levels.

Milwaukee Bucks guard Donte DiVincenzo started 66 games during the 2020-21 regular season.
Milwaukee Bucks guard Donte DiVincenzo started 66 games during the 2020-21 regular season.Read moreMorry Gash / AP

Donte DiVincenzo stood directly behind NBA commissioner Adam Silver. This time, he wasn’t shaking Silver’s hand after being selected 17th in the NBA draft, as he did in 2018. He was in a black hoodie with a white championship T-shirt draped over his shoulders, completing the ultimate trifecta: winning a title in high school, college, and the NBA.

DiVincenzo tore a ligament in his left ankle in the first round and missed the remainder of the NBA playoffs following his June 8 surgery, but his impact was felt during the Milwaukee Bucks’ championship run. The former Villanova guard started all 66 regular-season games in which he played and averaged 10.4 points.

“He’s got a really mature attitude about [the injury],” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “Not at all feeling sorry for himself. I’m really proud of him.”

“I know he’s doing any and everything he can to be as positive as an influence on his teammates, which is extremely valuable,” said former Villanova assistant Ashley Howard, who now serves as La Salle head coach.

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DiVincenzo’s impact on the NBA Finals couldn’t be quantified, but his former teammates and coaches know he made a difference. This wasn’t the first time he had to find alternative means to help a title team.

Flash back to 2016. During Villanova’s championship run, the freshman DiVincenzo played in nine games after dealing with injuries. The Wildcats were getting ready for their Final Four matchup against National Player of the Year Buddy Hield and Oklahoma. The Sooners had blasted them by 23 points in the regular season.

DiVincenzo played the part of Hield during practice scouting, and his teammates couldn’t stop him. His coaches were worried because if DiVincenzo was doing this, imagine what Hield would do. But it was the opposite. Hield had his second-lowest scoring game of the season in a 44-point loss.

“I was just like, ’Man, we got Buddy Hield tomorrow and Donte is killing us in practice,’” Howard said.

“We were scared to death in that game because we couldn’t stop Donte,” Wright said.

“He was scouting as Buddy Hield and he played better than Buddy Hield when we played Oklahoma,” former teammate Phil Booth said.

DiVincenzo was a star in Wilmington at the Salesianum School, where he won back-to-back state championships. He was ranked as the top player in Delaware in the class of 2015. His former Villanova teammate Darryl Reynolds remembers teammates wondering whether DiVincenzo would fit Villanova’s culture when he stepped on campus, but he proved himself over time.

“Donte plays with a huge chip on his shoulder,” Reynolds said. “Anyone who knows Delaware knows Delaware is a very much blue-collar state, and he’s always had this thing about him where he has to prove himself time and time again.”

Before Kyle Lowry won in 2019 with the Toronto Raptors, it had been since 1981 that a former Wildcat won an NBA championship. DiVincenzo is the ninth Villanova player to win one.

This recent success is a credit to the culture Reynolds referenced. The last two Villanova championships are translating to NBA success. If DiVincenzo’s team had lost the Finals, Mikal Bridges, another former Wildcat, would have been an NBA champion.

It goes back to Wright’s tough practices, where he always preaches playing hard — and most of Villanova’s NBA players have maintained that reputation in the league.

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Bridges and DiVincenzo are strong defenders who face tough matchups nightly. Lowry is one of the best at taking charges among NBA guards, and he’s good for a couple of dives and midair flights before pounding into the hardwood. Josh Hart is a rugged defender, whom you might see guarding power forwards one day and point guards the next. And Jalen Brunson would be the toughest guy in the Salty Spitoon. The list goes on.

“Coach Wright teaches us that nothing on the court should be overlooked,” Booth said. “Loose balls, help defense, talking and communicating, rebounding. All that stuff matters.”

Former teammates and coaches described DiVincenzo as a hard worker. And it appears that good things come to those who work hard. DiVincenzo, whose teams have now won two high school championships, two NCAA titles, and the Larry O’Brien trophy, is being his rewarded a little more often than the average player.

“Considering everything he’s gone through, I know it kills him to not be able to participate in the Finals,” Howard said, “but with the sacrifices that he’s made and to see that manifest, he’s so deserving.”