SAN ANTONIO – An NCAA tournament that began with an unprecedented upset in the first round and continued with a No. 11 seed in the Final Four yielded one final surprise on Monday night. Villanova reserve guard Donte DiVincenzo came off the bench to score a career-high 31 points in the Wildcats’ 79-62 victory in the national title game against Michigan. He drained heat-check 3-pointers, sliced the lane for acrobatic scoop shots and exhibited a shooting form borrowed from a Hoosiers stunt double on his pull-up jumpers.
By the end of a night that was equal parts dominating and dizzying, a question arose that few outside NBA front offices had seriously considered before Monday night: Should DiVincenzo declare for the NBA draft? “I’m not focused on any of that right now,” he said when asked about the NBA after the game. “I’m just trying to enjoy this moment with these guys.”
Yahoo Sports reached out to a handful of NBA scouts and executives in the wake of DiVincenzo’s performance, and there’s certainly interest in him around the NBA. “He had the game of his life,” one veteran scout said in a text. “Helped him probably get some first-round looks.”
There wasn’t a consensus, as another scout predicted he’d be a late first-round pick and a third said he’d either go in the second or go undrafted. But no one argued the importance of shooting 5 of 7 from 3-point range, grabbing five rebounds and being what former teammate Josh Hart called “the best player on the floor.” Added one scout: “I think [tonight] will have a large impact.”
There’d already been quiet interest in DiVincenzo around front offices before he won the Final Four Most Outstanding Player award on Monday night. He’s an athletic and versatile 6-foot-5 guard who can defend multiple positions and seemingly has earned a minor in jaw-dropping put-back dunks. There wasn’t much doubt he’d someday evolve into a draft pick. But the question now lingers: Does his timeline move up? Villanova coach Jay Wright appeared a bit taken off-guard by the question, noting that he’d “make a horrible GM” because he doesn’t have a great feel for how draft decisions are ultimately made. “I don’t know,” Wright said of DiVincenzo. “But we’ll find out. We’ll definitely look into it.”
There are nearly three weeks for DiVincenzo to make a decision, as the deadline for early entry is April 22. Villanova is expecting to lose both National Player of the Year Jalen Brunson, a true junior, and star forward Mikal Bridges, a redshirt junior, to the NBA. DiVincenzo could potentially declare without signing with an agent, something seemingly every player in college basketball who averaged more than eight points per game has decided to do this season.
This is a top-heavy draft, with a few elite headline talents like Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III and Mo Bamba. But after about the 10th pick, there’s a distinct drop-off that makes the back-end of the draft a complete crapshoot. The 2019 draft is expected to be much weaker at the top, and DiVincenzo could well begin the year as the top returning college guard prospect if he decides to stay. (Much of that, of course, depends on the decisions of players exploring the draft.)
Few fans outside the Big East and Northeast had likely known much about DiVincenzo before the NCAA tournament. He sat out a majority of Villanova’s title season two years ago after breaking a bone in his right foot. (He’d started one game that season.) He averaged 8.8 points per game as a redshirt freshman last year and improved that to 13.0 this year. DiVincenzo is technically a reserve for the Wildcats, as he started just 10 games this season. But he averaged more than 29 minutes per game and his performance on Monday night commanded a team-high 37 minutes.
Could his monster Monday night lead to him turning pro? At the very least, DiVincenzo’s decision will receive much more attention than a few weeks ago.
Related coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Villanova crushes Michigan to win national title
• Way-too-early top 25 for 2018-19 college basketball season
• ‘MichaelJordan of Delaware’ excels for ‘Nova
• Michigan grad misses out on $1M payday with ‘Nova’s win