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Inside the 'Nova Knicks' connection between Brunson, Hart, DiVincenzo


The Villanova Basketball mantra is, “Once A Wildcat, Always A Wildcat.”

Three players have taken that literally as they joined forces to build one of the best teams in the NBA years after leaving school.

Former Villanova teammates Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart and Donte DiVincenzo landed with the Knicks and led New York to the No. 2 seed in the East and its first 50-win season in over a decade this season. The trio is one series win away from returning the Knicks to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2000.

This level of winning is nothing new to Brunson, Hart and DiVincenzo. Long before they were the heartbeat of an NBA title contender, they were national champions as teammates in college.

How did they get from Villanova to the Knicks? The Sporting News takes a closer look at their journey below.

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Brunson and DiVincenzo stepped foot on the Villanova campus as highly touted freshmen in 2015. They were college roommates trying to navigate the next step in life while figuring out how to earn minutes on a Wildcats team with national title aspirations.

Hart was trending toward becoming one of the best wings in the country as a junior. They had senior leaders in Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu. Kris Jenkins, Phil Booth and freshman Mikal Bridges filled out a deep roster.

Brunson made an instant impact, but DiVincenzo suffered an early-season foot injury that forced him to redshirt the rest of the year. The freshman tandem clicked instantly, but DiVincenzo and Hart didn’t see eye-to-eye.

“Josh will tell you, I hated him,” DiVincenzo told ESPN for a story on the Nova Knicks. “A bunch of guys did. Jalen and I were best friends, and Jalen had to say, ‘Come on, he’s fine.’ But yes, that was our common bond.”

Villanova went 35-5 during the 2015-16 regular season and earned a No. 2 seed in March Madness.

The Wildcats ran through the first three rounds of the NCAA Tournament with ease, then upset No. 1 Kansas in the Elite Eight. With No. 2 seed Oklahoma and Wooden Award winner Buddy Hield awaiting the Wildcats in the Final Four, DiVincenzo made his biggest impact of the season as a practice player.

DiVincenzo famously played the role of Hield for Villanova’s scout team, and he torched the Wildcats’ rotation players just days before the big game.

“He was roasting us,” Hart said. “The shots he was hitting were absurd. If Buddy was going to make those, it was a wrap for us.”

DiVincenzo’s Hield prep worked, as Villanova defeated Oklahoma by 44 points and held Hield to nine points on 4-of-12 shooting. It was the largest margin of victory in Final Four history.

“[DiVincenzo] did more damage in practice than Buddy Hield did in the game,” Hart said after the fact.

Villanova went on to win the national championship in 2016 and had hopes of repeating in 2017.

The next season, Hart developed into the Big East Player of the Year and was a finalist for the Wooden Award. Brunson stepped up as the Wildcats’ second-leading scorer and DiVincenzo played a key role off the bench, averaging 8.8 points in 25.5 minutes per game.

Hart and DiVincenzo still didn’t get along, though. Their relationship strained and reached a tipping point, but it didn’t prevent DiVincenzo from signing with the Knicks this past summer.

“Josh was just a bully. A playful bully,” he told ESPN.

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