One night changed everything for DiVincenzo, who’s leaving Villanova before the college basketball world ever really got to know him.
On Tuesday, Donte DiVincenzo announced on Instagram he would be signing with an agent and keeping his name in the NBA Draft. As recently as two months ago, the idea that DiVincenzo would bypass suiting up for Villanova in 2018-19 would have been met with both confusion and cries that the young man was making a grave mistake. But on May 29, the 21-year-old’s announcement had already felt like an inevitability for weeks.
DiVincenzo’s professional career began in earnest on the evening of his final college game. A sophomore reserve who had only scored 20 or points in a game five times all season, “The Big Ragu” exploded for 31 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the field as Villanova captured its second national championship in three seasons with a 79-62 thumping of Michigan.
Almost immediately, the “could he be an All-American next season?” talk that had existed in some form throughout 2017-18 shifted to “could he be more ready to make the jump than any of us thought?” DiVincenzo would answer the second question emphatically just weeks later.
There was no bigger star at the NBA scouting combine than the reigning Final Four Most Outstanding Player. DiVincenzo notched a combine-best standing vertical leap of 34.5 inches, and then tied for the best max vertical leap at 42 inches. He then consolidated his testing numbers with terrific play during the 5-on-5 portion of the combine. When it was time for DiVincenzo to leave Chicago, it was all but assumed that his most memorable college game would wind up being his last.
Another player who tested off the charts athletically at the combine was Duke’s Grayson Allen. Allen’s lane agility time of 10.31 seconds was the fifth-best in combine history, and he also produced top five results in the shuttle run, in the max vertical leap, and in the standing vertical leap. Those numbers match up favorably with DiVincenzo’s, and yet, unlike DiVincenzo, nobody is projecting Allen to hear his name called during the first round of next month’s draft.
The reason lies in the biggest difference between the two players: Unlike DiVincenzo, Allen didn’t strike while the iron was hot.
Allen’s NBA stock peaked before his name became known in households that don’t follow college basketball. In the 2015 national championship game, Allen played the same role DiVincenzo would assume three years later. A seldom-used freshman reserve, Allen came off the bench to score 16 points in 21 minutes, including eight straight point at one point late in the second half when Wisconsin had seemed to have Duke on the ropes. The Blue Devils claimed their fifth national title, and Allen was hailed as the new king of Durham.
In 2015, the rule that allows college players to declare for the draft, go through the pre-draft process and still return to school wasn’t in place yet. Maybe if it was, Allen could have tested the waters and found them as comforting as DiVincenzo did. Instead, despite some buzz that a solid combine showing might result in a first round selection, Allen chose to assume his college throne.
You’re likely at least somewhat familiar with what happened next. Allen became arguably the most well-known name of college basketball’s last decade, mostly for the wrong reasons. In his junior and senior seasons, Allen struggled to find his role on Blue Devil teams loaded with superstar freshmen. Even when his play was brilliant, that positive was overshadowed by his bizarre propensity for tripping opposing players and throwing on-court temper tantrums.
A safe assumption is that DiVincenzo wouldn’t have experienced the same type of roller coaster had he wound up playing one or two more seasons for Jay Wright. But basketball guarantees only come in the form of contracts, and you can’t sign one of those in college.
For Villanova fans, the feeling has to be at least somewhat bittersweet. On one hand, you always want to see the guys who wear your school’s jersey wind up realizing their dreams and securing their financial futures. On the other, ‘Nova didn’t even need DiVincenzo’s monster effort to take care of Michigan. If he merely plays an average game and scores 15 points, the Wildcats still win their second national title in three years, DiVincenzo almost certainly returns to school and is a preseason All-American, and Villanova is in prime position to become college basketball’s first back-to-back national champion since Florida did it over a decade ago.
The catch-22 here is why the sport might not see a repeat national champion any time soon. Breakout superstars are almost all college basketball has, because no one wants to stick around long enough to become an established college superstar. Nor should they. Just ask Grayson Allen.