Donte DiVincenzo recalls ‘special love’ before first return to Milwaukee

SAN FRANCISCO — Donte DiVincenzo’s introduction to Milwaukee after the Bucks selected him with the No. 17 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft was everything he could have imagined and more.

His brother, mother and father – a lifelong Bucks fan – were all there. The DiVincenzos flew to Chicago, where a car service took them to meet head coach Mike Budenholzer and assistant Zach Peterson, who is now with the Los Angeles Lakers. The night consisted of a dinner that Donte and the rest of his family will never forget.

“It was my first taste of the NBA, and I was super, super excited,” DiVincenzo told NBC Sports Bay Area Friday at Chase Center after the Warriors practice. “It all happened so fast. I couldn’t even absorb it all.”

Now a key member of Warriors bench, Tuesday night at the Fiserv Forum will be a first for the veteran guard. DiVincenzo went from a role player to a key member of the Bucks’ success and ultimately their starting shooting guard the season they won the championship in 2021, breaking a 50-year non-title drought for the franchise. But he also suffered a left ankle injury in the first round of those playoffs during that league season, one that ended his season and held him back until Christmas 2021.

He understandably wasn’t quite himself on his return and aggravated the same ankle injury three games before completing his comeback. Later in the season, DiVincenzo discovered another side of the league in be traded to the Sacramento Kings as part of a four-team exchange. A month after the move, redemption was on his mind in Sacramento.

When DiVincenzo faced his former team as part of the Kings, he admits he had a chip on his shoulder and wanted to prove a point. He scored 19 points — his record with Sacramento — made four 3-pointers, added four rebounds and stole three steals to serve as a reminder of who he still is, but the Kings lost by nine points to his former teammates. DiVincenzo enters Tuesday night’s contest with a much different mindset this time around.

“I’m in a whole different city, a whole different organization and my focus is here,” DiVincenzo told reporters on Friday. “I’m excited to go and play there for the first time, but my focus isn’t going to stray away from what we do as a team and my role and mindset for this team.

“I have bigger goals than trying to win a game in the season.”

DiVincenzo was a bright-eyed 21-year-old when the Bucks called his name on draft night. He was coming off a second redshirt season at Villanova that included being named the Big East Sixth Man of the Year and NCAA Finals Most Outstanding Player after scoring 31 points to go with five rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots in the championship game. against Jordan Poole and the Michigan Wolverines.

After his eye-opening run throughout March Madness, DiVincenzo continued to climb the ranks for the draft. He went from being a household name on the college scene to being a player that fans were clamoring for. Known as someone who can do a bit of everything on the court, DiVincenzo put on a draft show with a combine-best 34.5-inch standing vertical jump. His maximum vertical jump of 42 inches was tied for best in the event.

Then came that June night when the Bucks made his dreams and those of his family come true. All DiVincenzo could imagine was becoming the perfect complement alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo. The NBA isn’t always a straight and narrow path, however. In fact, this is rarely the case.

Looking at the Donte DiVincenzo who first arrived in Milwaukee versus the version of himself who is about to experience his first homecoming, the Warriors guard believes the biggest difference is maturity. Turning 26 at the end of next month, DiVincenzo has been through a handful of phases that are the Association: Becoming a first-round pick, injuries, winning a championship, being traded and going through free agency.

Every story needs a starting point. For Donte’s NBA journey, it all started in Milwaukee.

“I think my level of maturity, just understanding that there are many sides to the NBA,” DiVincenzo said, regarding his biggest life change since draft night. “There’s the business side, there’s the personal side of the relationships and relationships you build, and then there’s the basketball side, coming in every day and taking care of your business. That’s in kind of the reason to go to Milwaukee for this game It’s so exciting, just seeing these guys. It’s the personal side.

“On the basketball side, I’m locked into what we’re doing here and it’s going to sort itself out. And I understand the business side of things. So with everything I’m in a good frame of mind, I’m in a good space for the lead. I’m just ready to see my guys.

He is ready to see the fans too. They switched to DiVincenzo’s style of play in no time. The reason, he says, is simple.

It’s the same reason Kerr trusts DiVincenzo every time he calls his number on the bench. His energy is felt. Coaches can feel it, so can teammates and the whole Dub Nation. So did the many who supported him during his three-plus years in Milwaukee.

The statistics will come. For DiVincenzo, dirty work comes before box score.

“Just play hard and tough,” DiVincenzo said when asked about the Bucks’ fan love. “I think that’s a big reason why Bobby Portis is so loved there. He just comes in and plays hard. And he engages with the fans. Me, I haven’t done that as much.

“I just tried to play my ass off and a hard-working city like that, they kind of appreciate it and it resonates with them. That’s the mentality I had.”

DiVincenzo is not very present on social networks. His only tweet of the season was a retweet from the San Francisco SPCA in a video where DiVincenzo helped raise awareness of the importance of pet adoptions. His only post on Instagram since joining the Warriors is a media day photo.

After his departure last February, he did not post a message on either platform thanking the Bucks, their fans or the city of Milwaukee. It’s not because of the love he will always have for the three. It’s just not his style.

Any thanks he has can’t be wrapped up in a fancy graphic or a 240-character tweet. Grateful and thankful are two words DiVincenzo turns to. Without the Bucks, without Milwaukee, who knows where his road would have taken him.

We all need a start, an opportunity, a door to open. That’s what Milwaukee did for DiVincenzo.

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“For me, they opened the door to the NBA for me,” DiVincenzo said. “I can play for all the teams in the NBA. No matter what, I will always have this special love for the organization, for this front office that gave me my first chance in the NBA. It goes with the fans as well.

“Coming into the NBA is so difficult. For them to open the door and allow me to show what I can do, it prepared me for my career and the one I’m going to have and continue to have.”

As he obsesses over the present and lives in the moment as a warrior, DiVincenzo can finally look back with lots of love. It is a gift that many would like to have too.

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