Donte DiVencenzo is a bench player. Keep that in mind for a bit. The Most Outstanding Player in this year’s tournament wasn’t even in the starting five for his team as they won it all. His play throughout the tournament was stupendous, with no performance better than the one he turned in on Monday night. His success, along with that of his Villanova teammates, is all thanks to a powerhouse team with a system that build players, rather than a one-semester bus stop on the players’ route to the NBA Draft.
The biggest contributors on Villanova aren’t the freshman. Jalen Brunson is a junior with his second NCAA Championship ring. Mikal Bridges is a redshirt junior, and DiVincenzo is a redshirt sophomore. They’ve proven their dominance in the NCAA game, and while the NBA is still a question mark even for the most talented college athletes, they’ve also shown the benefits of sticking around in the NCAA ranks.
Never mind, for a moment, the claims of fraud and dishonesty in the college ranks or pay-for-play systems run under the table. Disregard the complaints of players who claim a full college scholarship is not sufficient compensation for their efforts on the court. These young men have not only received an education from one of the better universities in a country anyone would love to call home, they’ve also played in a system with a man who has earned his place among the college basketball coaching elite. Not all players who stick around for more than one season do well in the NBA; Naismith Award winner Jimmer Fredette has torn up the league formerly known as D and the Chinese Pro Leagues, but is a marginal contributor at best in the NBA. In other instances, spending a couple years learning before hopping into the shark tank has proven more than beneficial. Kawhi Leonard, Isaiah Thomas, Klay Thompson, and rookie phenoms Donovan Mitchell and Kyle Kuzma, to name just a few, spent at least two seasons in college before making the leap and taking over the league.
This certainly isn’t to say that spending more time playing in college is the only way to success; LeBron James would certainly scoff at that notion; but with all the talk of getting rid of the one year requirement and allowing high schoolers to jump straight into the G League, nobody should discount the benefits of sticking around the college ranks.
College isn’t for everyone; some people certainly do fine without it. Some people take the opportunity to truly study and immerse themselves in the experience and become more eloquent and well-rounded, and their reasoning is sharpened. Even watching DiVincenzo’s postgame interviews, it’s clear that three years of college have begun to shed off a persona that would’ve made Vanilla Ice proud. Take a look at his postgame interview from last night:
He’s still a young guy, but it’s clear he’s maturing from a persona and a front that probably got a lot of laughs in high school. It could just be the process of growing up, but never underestimate the power of receiving an education and allowing yourself to learn.
One-and-done players like Marvin Bagley III and Michael Porter Jr. have the natural athleticism (not to mention nearly 84 inches of God-given height for each of them) to ensure some level of success, likely more than any of these Villanova guys will have, but the education they’ve received both on and off the court sets them up for a solid future in whatever they choose to do, and that’s something worth noticing.