MINNEAPOLIS — Donte DiVincenzo was the quieter of the roommates at Villanova, content to play his video games in silence.
Jalen Brunson preferred chatting and blasting his music, whether it was Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber.
“He would play that loud as hell,” DiVincenzo said.
It was annoying, DiVincenzo says, but somehow worked. Through three years at Villanova and two national championships, the pair became best friends — regardless of Brunson’s taste in music and their clashing personalities.
“He bugs the hell out of me,” DiVincenzo says. “When I’m quiet, it doesn’t sit well with him. So he’s going to keep nagging me until I talk to him.”
Today, in a development neither dared to predict while Wildcats, the introvert and extrovert, are teammates in the NBA, starting the last two games as the Knicks’ backcourt while leading the team to its sixth win in its last seven games.
Their highlight together in the NBA, at least thus far, was a combined 57 points in a victory Saturday, when Brunson and DiVincenzo took turns carving up the Hornets.
DiVincenzo’s 25 points were a career high.
“We envisioned playing in the NBA. We envisioned all that stuff, but not this,” Brunson says. “Jokingly, maybe, but never really a serious thought.”
Brunson and DiVincenzo first talked at an airport around 2013. DiVincenzo, a high school star in Delaware, had already committed to Villanova. He tried to recruit Brunson, a five-star prospect out of Illinois who, at the time, had other plans.
“He was like, ‘Hey, why don’t you come to Villanova?’ ” Brunson said. “I remember just laughing and saying, ‘No.’ And then fast forward a year later, I’m committing.”
Their success was unprecedented at the Philadelphia school. Two NCAA championships. A National Player of the Year award for Brunson. A Final 4 Most Outstanding Player recognition for DiVincenzo.
They became legends at Villanova but neither were considered star NBA prospects, especially Brunson, who fell to the second round of the 2018 draft.
Five years later, they’re operating on contracts with over $150 million guaranteed combined. Brunson is easily a top-10 NBA point guard while averaging 24.2 points and shooting 48 percent on 3-pointers. He’s on a path toward his first All-Star game and picked up a familiar supporter.
“I would love for him to get an All-Star berth,” DiVincenzo says. “I think he is [an All-Star]. I think we have two All-Stars on this team [with Julius Randle]. And I thought that last year watching these guys.”
DiVincenzo, unlike the many evaluators who allowed Brunson to sink to the second round, isn’t surprised by the success. He had a close view of the come-up.
“All his footwork, all his dribble-up 3s,” DiVincenzo said. “Everything that he’s doing, I’ve been seeing for eight or nine years now.”
DiVincenzo’s path in the NBA wasn’t quite as linearly upwards as Brunson’s. He found success early as a role player in Milwaukee but missed the team’s 2021 championship run after tearing a ligament in his ankle and struggled to recover the following season.
Then last season, with Golden State, DiVincenzo recouped his value and signed the $50 million deal with the Knicks in free agency. His start in New York was predictably bumpy, but the 26-year-old seemed to find his footing recently while displaying the disruptive defense and off-ball cutting that made him so intriguing to Tom Thibodeau.
“I’m not surprised because I’ve seen it,” Brunson said, “but to be able to see it now as a teammate on this stage, it’s like surreal now.”
The Villanova reunion extends beyond the backcourt. Because of an injury and illness to regular-starters Quentin Grimes and RJ Barrett, Friday night’s Knicks lineup featured three former college teammates — Brunson, DiVincenzo and Josh Hart.
The strangeness of the PA announcement wasn’t lost on DiVincenzo.
“It’s super weird. Super weird,” he said. “They’re announcing the starters and it’s like, ‘From Villanova. … From Villanova. … From Villanova. It was like Villanova going up against the Wizards.”
The ’Nova Knicks won that game, 122-108, and won the next night in Charlotte because two former roommates caught fire. They’ve come a long way from the competing interests of quiet video games and the volume control of Taylor Swift.
“Exactly. I’m the quiet one,” DiVincenzo said. “I’m trying to play my video games and stuff like that. But it just worked. It worked for us.”