When it comes right down to it, Villanova coach Jay Wright doesn’t quite remember calling Donte DiVincenzo the “Michael Jordan of Delaware” in the first place.
But if Wright accidentally did get this started, well, it probably went down about the way DiVincenzo told him it did: “Facetiously in his freshman year when he was acting like a superstar.”
So then players started calling him that, and next thing you know Wright is calling him that since the players are and, shazam, “that became his name,” Wright said.
The whole thing was mostly kind of a joke until Monday night, when the sixth man on a Villanova team distinguished by its selflessness and share-the-ball mentality appropriately enough emerged as the most outstanding player of the Final Four with 31 points in the Wildcats’ 79-62 victory over Michigan at the Alamodome.
“It just shows you how much depth we have as a team, and how we don’t care who gets the credit,” said junior guard Jalen Brunson, the consensus national player of the year. “If someone is hot, feed him. And just trying to play off each other and just trying to make sure we’re all playing together.”
DiVincenzo's scoring total was the most ever in the tournament by a non-starter in a national championship game and the most overall in a title game since Seton Hall’s John Morton scored 35 against Michigan in 1989.
This doesn’t make him remotely like Jordan, of course.
But you can sure bet the nickname will gain traction after he was as instrumental in his team’s national title-game win as Jordan was in North Carolina’s 1982 title, when he hit the game-winner against Georgetown.
Jordan isn’t the only one the Wildcats like to compare him to, though.
“ ‘Buddy Hield’-Donte was a special person — someone who might have just come out tonight,” Brunson said, smiling.
The reference was to the former Oklahoma star beginning to come into his own in the NBA with the Sacramento Kings.
Even as he was redshirting two years ago after suffering an early season foot injury, DiVincenzo apparently was uncontainable playing Hield on the scout team as Villanova prepared to play the Sooners in the national semifinal.
Wright fretted about what that meant for the game, but it turns out he had it inside out: DiVincenzo so prepared them for the real thing that it helped Villanova clobber OU 95-51 while holding Hield to nine points.
That put the Wildcats in the title game against North Carolina, during which DiVincenzo was on the bench in a suit when Kris Jenkins hit the game-winner in one of the most frantic endings in title-game history.
“I had so much confidence in that shot that I was standing up before (he) even released it,” DiVincenzo said.
He then proceeded to “take the pile down,” as he put it the other day.
On Monday, he stood on the court hugging Brunson for long moments after helping drive Michigan down.
It started with 18 points in the first half, many of which came after the sluggish start that left the Wildcats trailing 21-14.
“When he made those shots, it was like, ‘Whoa,’ ” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “And I didn’t think we had the same fire on defense.”
After Villanova took a 37-28 lead into the half and expanded it to double-digits early in the second half, any Michigan comeback notions were pretty well punctured by DiVincenzo’s back-to-back three-pointers in a 52-second span.
Each was punctuated by a wink toward the sideline as he ran back down the court, gestures that reflect a certain swagger in someone who also learned to conform in important ways.
“Donte competed for a starting position this year,” Wright said. “He worked really hard, and he wanted to start. And he was initially a little upset that he wasn’t starting. A little, not bad, because he’s just a great kid.
“But we spent a lot of time talking with him. Not to appease him, but to make sure his mind was clear and that he understood what he was doing. And tonight was the greatest example.”
To Wright’s point, in learning to come off the bench (often within minutes and at any number of spots as a 6-foot-5 guard) DiVincenzo has learned to focus outside himself.
Asked if he had some inkling he might have a night like Monday, when he made 10 of 15 field goals — including five of seven three-pointers — DiVincenzo said that sort of thing wasn’t even a consideration.
“I just try to bring energy,” he said. “ … I try to take the energy to a new level. I try to defend and to rebound to the best of my ability and just try to get it going.”
Enough to make the nickname stick, no matter how it started.