First of all, let’s dispel the myth. Donte DiVincenzo was never, ever referred to as “The Michael Jordan of Delaware’’ when he starred in basketball at Salesianum School. He was the best player in the state, but nobody compared him to the second-best player of all time.
By the way, if you don’t know who the best player of all time is, and you grew up in the Philadelphia area, shame on you.
Anyhow, DiVincenzo is a key player for perhaps the best team in the country, and even though he doesn’t start games for Villanova University, he usually finishes them. And now his name is familiar to millions of college basketball fans, including the writers and broadcasters who mistakenly and repeatedly call him the Michael Jordan of Delaware.
Last year, DiVincenzo had a good season coming off the bench for the Wildcats, who were ranked No. 1 in the nation for much of the year before a disappointing loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Of course, Villanova won the tournament the year before, but DiVincenzo wasn’t even in uniform for most of that thrilling national championship run, as his promising freshman season was ended after just eight games because of a foot injury.
Last year, I wrote that I was wrong about DiVincenzo – I thought he could get buried on Villanova’s talented bench and might have been better off at a smaller (at least basketball-wise) school like Delaware, where he would get a chance to shine.
But the kid from Sallies became a valuable role player last season and now he’s an invaluable part of a Villanova team that will play West Virginia in the East Regional’s Sweet 16 on Friday. And the spotlight really shined on him this past weekend, when he carried his team for the first half – making five three-point baskets and scoring 18 points – as a slow-starting Wildcats team eventually ran away from Alabama 81-58.
The announcers for the game gushed about DiVincenzo and frequently referred to him by the nickname “The Big Ragu,” an obvious reference to his Italian heritage. But then they brought up the Michael Jordan thing again. For some reason, I gnash my teeth whenever I hear that, and it’s worse when it comes from a local media person, who should know better.
So, here is the genesis of that case of mistaken identity: Villanova coach Jay Wright has weekly television and radio shows, like most big-time college coaches. Every week, Wright has a segment on a different player and when the DiVincenzo episode came on, Wright off-handedly remarked that Donte was known back home as “The Michael Jordan of Delaware.”
When I heard Wright say that I knew it was wrong and that had nobody in Delaware had ever said it, but I just let it go as hyperbole by the personable coach. Then, suddenly, everybody was quoting Wright’s quote and somehow it became gospel. Even the Philadelphia-area media have jumped on the Jordan bandwagon and assume it’s true.
Actually, the player who probably deserves that title the most – and, of course, no player from Delaware has ever come close to deserving it – was Terrence Stansbury, the former Newark High All-Stater and Temple University All-American.
Stansbury was good enough at Temple to be drafted in the first round of the 1984 NBA draft (one pick ahead of future Hall-of-Famer John Stockton) and he gained national attention when he advanced to the finals of the 1985 Slam Dunk competition at the NBA All-Star Game – beating Jordan along the way — with some acrobatic, even Jordan-like moves. In fact, you can watch his head-to-head battle with Jordan in that Slam Dunk competition, which took place back in the day when it meant something.
Other than that moment of glory, Stansbury’s NBA career never really amounted to much and he was bothered by knee problems at the end of it. He was drafted 15th overall by the Dallas Mavericks, who then traded him to the Indiana Pacers. He played two seasons with the Pacers, playing in 148 games and starting 31 while averaging 6.3 points per game. Stansbury was traded to Seattle and played 44 games with the Seahawks before his NBA career ended, and he played six seasons in Europe after that.
But even though he didn’t become an All-Star, Stansbury did play a few seasons in the NBA, and how many people do you know who can say that? And now you have to think DeVincenzo has a chance to follow Stansbury into the NBA, something that was unthinkable when he was finding his way and his game at Salesianum.
DiVincenzo proved his value to Villanova in their last tournament game when he carried the Wildcats in the first half against Alabama, and he mostly did it from well behind the three-point arc. So, DiVincenzo has shown he has the range to be a legitimate NBA shooter, and the 6-foot-5 guard has the athleticism and ball-handling skills to make it at the next level. And this is just his second full season, so the best is yet to come, assuming he stays in college through his senior year.
Donte DiVincenzo isn’t the Michael Jordan of Delaware and he never will be. But he may discover that being the Donte DiVincenzo of Delaware is pretty good, too.