MILWAUKEE — Donte DiVincenzo’s draft stock started rising after a breakout performance in the NCAA Tournament championship game.
Now the sixth man for Villanova’s title-winning squad is a first-round draft choice for one of the NBA’s up-and-coming teams. The Milwaukee Bucks selected DiVincenzo with the 17th overall pick of the NBA draft on Thursday night.
DiVincenzo fills a critical need for a perimeter shooter in Milwaukee, where he should feel comfortable coming off the bench as a rookie.
“And to watch him come off the bench the majority of the time and contribute and produce the way that he did, shows that he really not only says that he wants to play a role in winning and will sacrifice and do whatever it takes to win, but he actually did it,” Bucks general manager Jon Horst said. “And not only did he do it, he did it at a high level.”
Starting just 10 games last year, DiVincenzo was named the top sixth man in the Big East after averaging 13.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. His 31-point outburst against Michigan in the title game, including five 3-pointers, helped scouts take notice of the 6-foot-5 sophomore.
They were also wowed by DiVincenzo’s combine-best 42-inch vertical leap. His athleticism fits a roster with a core led by All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo, the 6-foot-11 forward with a 7-3 wingspan.
Perhaps most important to the Bucks, DiVincenzo shot 40 percent from 3-point range last season.
The Bucks shot 35.5 percent from 3-point range last season, tied for 21st in the NBA. They averaged just 8.8 3s a game, 27th in the league. Better shooting from teammates could give Antetokounmpo even more room to maneuver in the lane for a highlight-reel bucket.
“Unreal,” DiVincenzo said at the draft in Brooklyn when asked about playing with Antetokounmpo. “My job is to just to go in there and make sure he has all the confidence in the world that I’m on the court with him.”
The Bucks had their pick of wings with shooting ability with the 17th pick, with Miami’s Lonnie Walker and Maryland’s Kevin Huerter also on the board. They could also use a rugged interior defender and rebounder.
But DiVincenzo was too good to pass up. He also played in a pro-style system at Villanova, which Horst said could help the guard get better acclimated to the NBA.
“But for us to be able to get him … a guy that has positional size, that can shoot, pass, dribble, defend at a high level, compete and, again, to win at a high level, he’s proven he can do that. Very excited to have him,” Horst said.
DiVincenzo will still have to earn playing time from Mike Budenholzer, who was hired last month to replace interim coach Joe Prunty. In Budenholzer, Horst hired a coach with a reputation for player development who took the Atlanta Hawks to the Eastern Conference finals in 2015.
One of the league’s up-and-coming franchises hopes to take another step forward after first-round playoff exits in three of the past four seasons. The Bucks are also moving into a new arena this fall.
“They’re a playoff team and they’re … on the rise,” DiVincenzo said. “My job is just coming there with no ego and just be the hardest worker and just build confidence in the people around me.”