There was always the possibility that Donte DiVincenzo would just be a small fish in a big pond. He starred at basketball at Salesianum School, leading the Sals to the only two state championships in their history, but – let’s face it – Salesianum is in Delaware, and we might have been the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution, but we’re nowhere near first when it comes to producing top basketball talent.
So, I admit I was skeptical when DiVincenzo accepted a scholarship to Villanova University, because the Wildcats have been a Top 20 program for years. I thought he might be better off at a smaller school (at least in terms of basketball prowess) where there would be less competition from a roster filled with high school All-Americans, a school like Delaware or Mount Saint Mary’s, the mid-major team that Villanova was matched up against in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Well, you probably know by now that DiVincenzo has not only survived at Villanova, he’s thrived. He’s a key part of the Wildcats’ seven-man rotation and he’s a big reason Villanova has been at or near the top of the national rankings all season. And now he’s taking his game to the biggest stage of all – the NCAA Tournament, where Villanova is the No. 1 overall seed.
Most of DiVincenzo’s statistics from this season are solid, but not spectacular. He’s averaging 8.3 points per game, as well as 3.5 rebounds. Again, that’s good, but hardly great. But one statistic stands out above all the rest – DiVincenzo is averaging about 25 minutes of playing time per game, which is more than half the game.
That’s pretty impressive, coming from a redshirt freshman from a small state and a high school not known for its basketball prowess. Last season, DiVincenzo played sparingly in eight games as a true freshman before breaking a bone in his foot and missing the rest of the Wildcats’ amazing run to the national championship. And even though DiVincenzo worked hard in practice and helped the starters get better, even though he got to snip off a piece of the championship game net as a memento, he was still on the fringes.
This season, nobody was sure what would happen with DiVincenzo, and it appeared likely he would mostly ride the bench for the defending champions, making cameo appearances in the final minutes of blowouts. But then prize recruit Omari Spellman was ruled ineligible by the NCAA and guard Phil Booth – who was the Wildcats’ best player in last season’s championship game against North Carolina – ended up missing almost the entire year with a sore knee.
And, just like that, DiVincenzo became an important part of one of the best teams in the country.
That most impressive thing about DiVincenzo’s increased playing time is that much of it is at point guard, a position he never played before, although he would often bring the ball up-court against pressure when he was at Sallies. Villanova has one of the best point guards in the country in Jalen Brunson, but when he’s out of the game DiVincenzo takes over at the point and runs the offense of the top-ranked team in America. That says a lot about the confidence coach Jay Wright has in the ability and intelligence of his red-shirt freshman.
There’s no question that DiVincenzo will be a starter next season in a lineup that will probably include Brunson, Booth, Mikal Bridges and either Spellman or Eric Paschall. The kid from Sallies will be a main cog in the Villanova machine for the next three years, and it’ll be a lot of fun watching him play and progress against major-league competition.
It’s way too early to know if DiVincenzo’s basketball career will extend beyond college, but right now the little fish is having a blast swimming in one of the biggest ponds in America.