WILMINGTON – Donte DiVincenzo was the most outstanding player in an NCAA basketball championship game and the 17th overall pick in the 2018 National Basketball Association draft. But the Newark native and Salesianum School graduate put his pro career aside for a week in mid-August to pass along some of his knowledge to a large group of boys and girls at his first camp.
The 76ers Fieldhouse was filled with the sounds of bouncing basketballs and the voices of camp instructors, as well as those of the 7- to 17-year-olds. DiVincenzo spent part of one morning working with one of the younger groups, running a passing drill and doing some conditioning. There were plenty of high-fives and fist bumps to go around as well.
“We have a really good turnout, especially for my first camp,” he said. “The kids are doing a good job of listening and getting better. But my biggest thing is that they’re having fun. I ask them after every day two questions: Did you get better, and did you have fun. As long as I hear two yesses in that, then I’m happy.”
The campers liked playing one-on-one against a professional player, DiVincenzo said. There were also a few games of H-O-R-S-E.
But even in the heat of the summer he is thinking about the NBA. DiVincenzo had a regular spot in the rotation for the Milwaukee Bucks, one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, before heel problems brought his season to an early end. He ended up playing in 27 games, averaging 4.9 points and 2.9 rebounds in a little more than 15 minutes per game, but spent the second half of the season watching rather than playing.
This wasn’t the first time DiVincenzo, 22, had to deal with a season-ending injury, and that experience helped him through the frustration he felt as a rookie. During his freshman season at Villanova University, in 2015-16, he played in a handful of games before breaking a foot. He missed the rest of that season as the Wildcats won a national championship.
“At Nova, I was out that whole first year almost,” DiVincenzo said above the din of children’s voices and bouncing basketballs. “I just remember talking to Coach (Jay) Wright, and he said, ‘Just stay with the rehab, stay with the process, and everything will work out.’ And if you look at it, it worked. I played two years of college basketball and got drafted in the first round. He was saying more so to focus on every day. Rather than the big picture, just focus on getting better every single day and everything will take care of itself.”
The transition from college to the professional ranks was not as difficult as he had envisioned. He said the system the Bucks run is similar to what Wright does at Villanova, and the staff at Nova prepared its players for what to expect at the next level.
“Everybody’s athletic, everybody’s talented. You have your different tiers of guys. You have your superstars, and you have your second tier of guys that what separates them is their mental strength. I think that’s the biggest thing I learned my first year,” he said.
He is also appreciative of the support he received from the fans in Milwaukee. When he encountered people during his injury rehab, they told him how much they wanted him back on the court.
“That kind of got me through that mental hump,” he said.
DiVincenzo’s biggest expectations for the 2019-20 NBA season are to be back on the court and to be healthy. He wants to pick up where he left off before he got hurt, “but be even better.” He said the Bucks flew a coach to Delaware to work with him.
“We’ve been really focusing on the details of the position I’m going to be in during the year, so I think it’s going to be a good year,” he said.
He is ready to compete for playing time and an NBA championship with the Bucks. If they do win a title, he can add it to his two state championships at Salesianum and two more at Villanova. He feels like he belongs on an NBA court.
“Honestly, I knew I had the ability to play in the NBA, but it’s one of those things that’s a dream until it becomes a reality. Once I heard my name called, it didn’t really sink in until I stepped on the court for the first time. Even in practice or in the gym, and in training camp, it didn’t really feel real. But once I stepped on the court that first time, I felt like I belonged.”