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CHICAGO — Villanova sophomore Donte DiVincenzo entered the NBA draft combine with aspirations of cementing himself in this 2018 class, with perceptions about his game fueling the Final Four most outstanding player.
DiVincenzo’s 31 points and five 3-pointers in Villanova’s victory over Michigan in the NCAA championship game gave him momentum entering the pre-draft process, but also the mission to prove to NBA teams that he’s much more than a 3-point specialist. Through two days of competition at the combine, which started May 16 and ended Sunday, the 6-foot-5 DiVincenzo stood out as a shooter, playmaker and ball-handler able to play either guard position. He was also an athletic, disruptive defender and rebounder.
“I’m more than just a shooter,” DiVincenzo told Yahoo Sports. “I want to show teams that I can do more. Playing point guard is one big thing that teams want to see — if I can control the tempo, get into the offense, get shots and pocket passes.
“I wasn’t going to change my game in three or four weeks, but I had to tighten my game up, tighten my shot up and tighten my handle up and tighten defense up. I had to get into the little details to get ready to go.”
DiVincenzo has several workouts remaining before needing to make a final decision on his draft status by May 30. DiVincenzo hasn’t made a formal decision, but told Yahoo Sports that he expects to remain in the draft barring injury or a drastic change in his performance. Teams believe DiVincenzo has proved to be a first-round selection so far in the draft process.
“He was arguably the best all-around player in the games,” a team executive in Chicago told Yahoo Sports. As far as comparisons go, DiVincenzo may have a similar makeup to Philadelphia 76ers guard JJ Redick, but DiVincenzo is a more talented athlete and perhaps a more deft playmaker, with a ways to go to match Redick’s shooting skills.
DiVincenzo has respect for his Villanova coach, Jay Wright, and believes the program deserves credit for producing himself and fellow prospects Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson and Omari Spellman.
“Everywhere I’ve gone, basketball-wise, I’ve been the underdog and underrated guy,” DiVincenzo told Yahoo Sports. “I’ve wowed people every stage I’ve been on, and it’s no different here. My confidence is high that I was able to do that.
“Teams that I’ve spoken to, it’s been all positive and going in the right direction. I believe the range teams see me as is a late first-round pick, so if I can keep growing and keep rising, that’s perfect for me.”
The draft’s great unknown: Anfernee Simons
IMG Academy’s Anfernee Simons remembers when his prep school coaches informed him NBA executives were traveling to watch him play this past season, and the possibility of skipping his collegiate commitment became clear. Simons decommitted from Louisville, which was rocked by scandal and where embattled former coach Rick Pitino served as a leading factor in Simons’ signing.
Simons, who turns 19 before the June 21 draft, is one of this class’ greatest unknowns, a 6-4 prospect with natural gifts and a calm demeanor that surprised NBA executives.
“I hear criticism about my weight, but no NBA team tells me that I need to get bigger,” Simons told Yahoo Sports. “Teams see me working out against live bodies, so I believe they feel that I can play against anybody. I just have to keep loosening my body because I came in really tight, not knowing how to stretch properly. I want to hit the weights hard and stay loose.
“For me, the interview process has been critical for me. I want to show that I’m a mature person.”
Several NBA executives this week said Simons appeared open to discuss his journey in his 17 team interviews. His possible draft range is wide, with teams as high as the lottery expressing interest.
Simons has relied upon two close relationships so far: Utah Jazz star rookie Donovan Mitchell and Pitino. Mitchell hosted Simons’ visits to Louisville more than a year ago before Mitchell left school as a sophomore, and the two grew close. Pitino has been based in Miami since being fired by Louisville in September 2017, and he has appeared at several of Simons’ pre-draft workouts, even taking Simons on boat rides in which the two discuss the pro lifestyle.
“Rick has helped me every step of the way,” Simons told Yahoo Sports. “He’s in Miami and I’m in Miami. One day we went on a boat, and Rick likes riding boats and it was my first time on a boat. It’s been great having him by my side.
“Anytime I need to ask something about the process, Donovan always gives me great advice. He always tells me to be confident and play defense. He’s always preaching defense.”
Simons, who pulled out of several high school showcases, such as the Nike Hoop Summit and Jordan Brand Classic, last week held a private “pro day” where 20 NBA teams appeared. He took note of the first top high school prospect to turn professional in the G League — Darius Bazley, a former Syracuse commit — and decided to declare for the draft.
“Having teams in, it was nerve-racking at first,” Simons told Yahoo Sports. “But after the second and third day, I got better and better. I believe I really impressed a lot of them.
“The G League was definitely an option for me. People were asking me if I was prepared for the NBA, and back then the G League, as long as I’m learning and getting better … I want to do that. I wouldn’t even consider what he did, though. Honestly, I started the prep school route early. I knew I was going to do the prep school route when I was a sophomore in high school. It’s a great route for Darius and I’m happy for him. He’s young and he’s a for-sure 2018 player. He’s changed everything with that decision.”
Three questions with Oregon’s Troy Brown Jr.
Oregon’s Troy Brown Jr. impressed teams with his personality and maturity this week, and the potential first-round pick appears to have the versatility and drive to succeed at the next level.
The 6-7 Brown has a long list of pre-draft workouts, and a pro day May 31 in his hometown of Las Vegas.
What helped instill the confidence in your maturity?
“I definitely feel that I get my characteristics from my parents. My dad used to work for [The Department of Juvenile Justice] in Clark County, and my mom works for Child Haven for Child Protective Services, and so she’s worked with them for her whole life. Seeing them be good people and take care of kids, I’ve learned from them.”
How have you — and other draft prospects — needed to develop an edge on the court?
“On the court, you need to have a different mentality. I like being a nice person on the court, but you need to have some swagger about yourself and some confidence. You have to have some cockiness. You don’t have to let it take over you too much, but you have to be ready for the stage. Being able to have that alter-ego on the court, it helps me balance myself on and off the court, being a nice person. It’s a drive to want to be the best. Saying, ‘Nobody is better than me.’ When you know you’ve prepared for it, it’s natural.”
Is there a player you want to model your game after?
“Being able to do everything and fill every spot on the court, I’ve wanted to be good in all areas. I’m able to be a tall point guard. In today’s NBA, being able to do anything helps keep you on the court. My favorite player is LeBron James. He’s in ‘go’ mode at all times. When I went to his skills academy, there was no fat on his body. Penny Hardaway, Magic Johnson are two comparisons I’ve gotten, but I take pieces from everybody’s games.”
Standout quote: Kansas’ Svi Mykhailiuk
Perhaps no player had a more impressive week at the combine than Kansas’ Svi Mykhailiuk, who’s just 20 but has four collegiate seasons under his belt. He had a standout first day: 20 points and six 3-pointers, spacing the floor and showing the 3-and-D attributes required of successful wing players.
Does the 6-8 Mykhailiuk believe he is the best shooter in his class?
“In my opinion, I think I’m the best shooter in this draft,” he told Yahoo Sports. “I think I really am.”
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