A lot has changed for Donte DiVincenzo since we last wrote about him a month ago, and that change has all been for the better.
At the time, DiVincenzo – the former Salesianum School and Villanova University ace – was buried on the bench of the Milwaukee Bucks, the team that drafted him with the 17th overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft. He didn’t play in three of the Bucks’ first four games and had just a couple of garbage-time minutes in the other.
Then two things happened that showed that he’s a big part of the Bucks’ plans after all. In Game 5 he got to play 17 minutes against Orlando and scored 14 points, and for the next five games, he continued to get meaningful minutes off the bench.
Then fate stepped in and, ironically, what sidetracked him last year put him on the fast track this year – an injury. Bucks’ All-Star guard Khris Middleton was sidelined with a quadriceps injury and, suddenly and unexpectedly, DiVincenzo found himself in the starting lineup of one of the best teams in the NBA.
In his first start, against the Chicago Bulls on Nov. 14, he played 24 minutes, but scored just one point, although his strong defense and sharp passing were assets for the Bucks in their 124-115 victory. Then something clicked, and DiVincenzo’s offense finally caught up to his defense – in his next four games, all victories, he averaged 12.9 points per game.
DiVincenzo recently told reporters that it took him a little while to get his sea legs back after missing much of his rookie season – he only played in 27 games — with a foot injury.
“It’s very similar to my freshman year at Nova,” he said. “I was playing a little bit, got hurt [a broken bone in his other foot] and I had to learn a lot off the court, same as here. [Now I’m] going forward, just like I did in college – just keep moving, just keep getting better every single day, and things will take care of themselves.”
DiVincenzo, of course, became a national star when he had a game for the ages in the 2018 NCAA Championship, when he scored 31 points to lead Villanova to the title and was named the tournament’s outstanding player.
“I’m just really happy with how he’s playing, but most importantly that he’s healthy,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He’s playing with a ton of confidence, and he’s a great athlete and a great competitor when he’s healthy.”
DiVincenzo’s play has also impressed Bucks’ star Giannis Antetokounmpo, last season’s most valuable player in the NBA.
“He’s amazing,” Antetokounmpo said of his young teammate. “He looks really, really good. He’s definitely going to help this team. He’s going to make shots and he’s going to defend. It’s fun to have him back. It’s fun to see him out there competing hard.”
DiVincenzo said the support of his teammates, including their best player, helped him get through the hard times he endured last season and early in this one.
“He just builds confidence in me every day,” he said of Antetokounmpo. “I can miss 10 shots in a row and he’s still going to give it to me and tell me to shoot the 11th one. To have that confidence from somebody of that caliber is amazing. It just builds my confidence every day.”
Middleton is expected to miss another couple of weeks and there’s no question that when he returns from his injury he’ll be back in the starting lineup and DiVincenzo will be back on the bench. But he has established himself as a valuable role player for one of the NBA’s best teams, and once again the future is bright for Donte DiVincenzo.