Villanova Wildcats

Will newfound stardom lure Donte DiVincenzo into NBA draft?

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Will newfound stardom lure Donte DiVincenzo into NBA draft?

Donte DiVincenzo's historic effort in Villanova's championship game win Monday night over Michigan thrust him into the national spotlight. The red-shirt sophomore scored a career-high 31 points on 10 of 15 shooting, putting him squarely on the radar of NBA executives.

Prior to Monday, DiVincenzo was viewed as a solid prospect for the 2019 NBA draft. Now, there's speculation he could leave Villanova for the NBA this year.

There are two schools of thought on what DiVincenzo could and should do. On one hand, his stock may never be higher. Why not capitalize on his newfound stardom and declare now? After all, he demonstrated the full arsenal Monday — athleticism, explosiveness, outside shooting, the ability to play point guard and terrific defensive play.

Then there's the other option, the one that I think will ultimately win out — come back to school for his junior season and be "the man" for the premier college program in the country. DiVincenzo averaged 13.4 points this season, but he could showcase himself even more as Villanova's primary scoring option next year and potentially play his way into being a lottery pick in 2019. Right now, he's a fringe first-round prospect. There's no guarantee he'll be selected in the first 30 picks and receive a guaranteed contract.

In addition to being a tremendous talent, DiVincenzo has also demonstrated patience during his time at Villanova. He endured a medical red-shirt as a freshman after breaking his foot early in the season, watching from the sidelines as his teammates won a national championship in 2016. Last two years, DiVincenzo was good enough to start for 98 percent of the teams in college basketball. But he accepted his role as the sixth man for Villanova, providing a spark off the bench that no other team in the country had at its disposal. He's been patient throughout his career, paying his dues along the way. That patience would serve him well if he, in fact, chooses to put off the NBA for one more year.

It wouldn't surprise me at all if DiVincenzo goes through the pre-draft process without hiring an agent, giving himself the option to return to school. But in the end, expect him to come back to Villanova to help the Wildcats take aim at a third national championship in four years.

Sixers might not have to look far for perfect NBA draft prospect

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Sixers might not have to look far for perfect NBA draft prospect

Mikal Bridges will be starting the next chapter of his basketball career shortly. After helping lead Villanova to a second national championship in three years, Bridges will almost certainly announce soon he's declaring for the 2018 NBA draft. 

Bridges has another year of eligibility remaining, but he's projected to be a lottery pick. The smart thing for Bridges to do is getting his professional career started. Last month, Jay Wright joked he'd "kick out" Bridges if he wanted to come back to school.

There's not much else for Bridges to accomplish at Villanova. He averaged just under 18 points and over five rebounds as a junior, earning the third team All-American honors. He was a first-team All-Big East selection and the Most Outstanding Player of the Big East Tournament. Above all else, Bridges is a winner. He went 103-13 the last three years at Villanova and won two Big East regular season championships, two Big East Tournaments and of course, two national championships.

The question now, what's next? He's spent his entire life in the Philadelphia area. He was born in the city and starred at nearby Great Valley High School before going to Villanova. There's a realistic chance he could stay in Philly to begin his NBA career. In addition to the Sixers' own first-round pick, which will be somewhere in the 20's, they also have the Lakers' first rounder provided it doesn't fall between the second or fifth pick. At the moment, L.A. has the best odds to receive the 10th pick, which would convey to the Sixers.

Bridges is projected to be in the mid-to-late lottery range, around 10th. The Sixers could do a lot worse than selecting Bridges with the Lakers' pick. He's NBA-ready. He'd have no trouble stepping in to the Sixers' rotation and playing a complementary role to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Bridges is an outstanding perimeter defender and has demonstrated the ability to knock down the three-point shot consistently, traits valued tremendously in today's NBA.  

No less an authority on the NBA game than Kevin Durant has already called Bridges his favorite prospect in this year's draft. He's capable of making an impact on Day 1 and will be a great cultural addition to whatever NBA locker room he joins. As an added bonus, there would already be a familiar face in the Sixers' organization. Bridges' mother, Tyneeha Rivers, is the global vice president for human resources for Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, the company that oversees Sixers' personnel.

It would be a great story and a great fit. A player who won at a historical level in college joining an NBA team on the cusp of winning big and Bridges wouldn't have to leave his hometown to do it.

So many parallels between Villanova and 2017 Eagles

So many parallels between Villanova and 2017 Eagles

They're unfailingly unselfish. They have a different star every night. Their coach preaches team goals at the expense of individual accomplishments, and every single guy on the roster buys in.

It was impossible watching Villanova without seeing a whole lot of Eagles along the way.

Different sport, yes. But the exact same philosophy.

Build a team based on that rare mixture of talent and unselfishness. Identify players who genuinely don't care about stats or accolades. Coach them at an elite level. And win.

Twice in three months, we've watched a Philly team win a championship in that exact fashion.

Talent made the Eagles a good team, but their togetherness, chemistry and unselfishness made them great. The same is clearly true of Villanova.

The Eagles had a different hero every week, and their balance made them extremely tough to defend.

Slow down Alshon, Nelson Agholor beats you. Double-team him and Torrey Smith makes a play. Stop Jay Ajayi and there's LeGarrette Blount busting open a big play. Stop Blount and there's Corey Clement racing down the field for a big gain. Lose Carson Wentz for the year? We all know what Nick Foles did.

Villanova?

The Wildcats entered the Final Four riding Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, two remarkable juniors headed for the pros. And who carried them to the national title? In the semifinals, it was unheralded Fordham transfer Eric Paschall, who scored 24 points. And in the final, it was sophomore sub Donte DiVincenzo, who scored 31.

When you have a team that isn't built around superstars, you can win a lot of different ways.

We all saw the Eagles win despite losing six really good players to season-ending injuries. But as talented as Carson Wentz and the other guys are, the strength of the Eagles wasn't one guy, it was 53. You can stop a superstar. You can't stop 53 really good players who believe in each other and believe in their coach.

And here comes Villanova into the Final Four, playing at the highest level and on the biggest stage, and their National Player of the Year, Brunson, shot just 11-for-27 against Kansas and Michigan. Their lottery pick, Bridges, was quiet for most of the two games as well. And the guy who began the weekend as the most accurate three-point shooter in NCAA Tournament history, Phil Booth, never got going.

And none of it mattered. Because teams built around balance, unselfishness, intelligence and teamwork find ways to win.

Sometimes they are unconventional ways. Like the backup tight end throwing a touchdown on fourth down to the backup quarterback. Or a sophomore coming off the bench and scoring a career-high in the biggest game of his life (for the second time in three years).

And don't look now but there's another team in Philly that's winning the exact same way.

The 76ers keep winning, with or without Joel Embiid, and they're doing it because they too have that rare mix of talent and unselfishness.

Over the last two months, the Sixers are 21-5, best in the East, third-best in the NBA during that span.

Have they been the best shooting team or rebounding team? Nope. But they are averaging an incredible 29.2 assists per game during that 26-game stretch, best in the NBA since Feb. 5.

Does it mean they're going to win an NBA title this year?

Nope. But they're clearly on the right track.

These teams are impossible to root against, teams built around all those old-fashioned fundamental principles that we as Philadelphians have been raised on.

Hard work. Togetherness. Work ethic. Pride. Unselfishness.

It's not the most conventional route to a championship in a modern sports landscape dominated by out-of-control egos, self-absorbed superstars and look-at-me culture.

But for us? It's working just fine. See ya at the parade.