For Bucks’ Donte DiVincenzo, NBA Career a Path to Dog Adoption Dreams in Delaware

LOS ANGELES -- More than two years have passed since Donte DiVincenzo last played with Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges at Villanova, but the three Wildcats still share an enduring bond.

That’s to be expected from three former teammates who won an NCAA tournament championship together in 2016—and, in the case of Donte and Mikal, took home a second in 2018. Each went on to become a first-round pick in the NBA draft, with Josh joining the Los Angeles Lakers in 2017, and Donte and Mikal latching on with the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns, respectively, in 2018.

Even as their NBA schedules keep them apart, Donte, Mikal and Josh trade phone calls and text messages about basketball, life and—perhaps most importantly—animals. Nowadays, when they’re not busy hooping, they’re championing the Humane Society as the animal rights organization’s only official advocates currently playing in the NBA, according to Donte.

“I’m talking to them about trying to figure out a competition between our teams or something to raise money for the Humane Society,” Donte tells CloseUp360 from the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles in Beverly Hills during a recent Bucks road trip.

For all that he’s accomplished at the age of 22—as a two-time collegiate champion, Final Four Most Outstanding Player and regular starter for the Bucks in his second season as a pro—Donte is already looking ahead to bigger goals, from winning an NBA title to making a difference for animals in Wisconsin and beyond.

“I know a lot of [NBA] guys kind of do a bunch of different things,” he says. “But I'm trying to put everything into two things: kids and the dogs.”

Donte DiVincenzo

Donte DiVincenzo is one of the Humane Society's three official supporters in the NBA, along with Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges. (Amir Ebrahimi)

Donte’s love for and desire to work with dogs long predates his rise as a basketball star along the Atlantic coast. As a kid in Newark, Delaware, he grew up around the Golden Retrievers that his family kept as pets.

But it wasn’t until his high school days at Salesianum School in Wilmington that Donte discovered a passion for animals. During his junior year, he took an impromptu trip to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in Newark with his father, John. That’s where he met King, an American bulldog-Great Dane-pit bull mix.

“He was huge,” Donte says. “If you saw him, you would be scared of him, and then see that he's like the biggest lap dog you'd ever meet.”

Donte felt he had no choice but to adopt the giant pup. John, however, felt otherwise, and refused to let his son bring King home.

“But it was one of those things where I knew [my dad] wanted to bring the dog home,” Donte says.

The next day, Donte returned to the ASPCA to rescue King. But before they could commit to keeping King, the DiVincenzos had to see how the new dog got along with their existing one. Fortunately, the two pooches hit it off immediately. 

Still, Donte had to convince the rest of the family that King should stay.

“My parents were, like, ‘We're not keeping him,’” Donte says with a grin. “And next thing you know, for the next 12 years, that was everybody's favorite person in the house.” 

Donte and King became inseparable. Donte slept beside his gigantic dog every night, and even tried to sneak him into the dorms at Villanova.

“That dog was…it's hard to explain,” he says. “When you say man's best friend, like that dog specifically, that was my best friend. It was crazy.”  

Along the way, Donte developed a desire to help other dogs—to find homes for them like the one the DiVincenzos had made for King.

“[Adopting King] was the thing that kind of got me really involved in animals,” he says. “Specifically dogs.”

King DiVincenzo

The DiVincenzos adopted King during Donte's junior year of high school. (Courtesy of Donte DiVincenzo)

After King passed away, Donte set about building a dog family of his own—and finding a more concrete vision for his cause.

Through his years of visiting shelters in Delaware and Wisconsin, Donte had seen how rescue animals were often confined to small spaces while they awaited adoption. But a visit to a particularly spacious shelter—where he found Shorty, a dachshund-pug mix—showed him that there was another, better way to care for those without a home.

“They lived on the property, and then they had a huge field and a nice facility,” he says. “The animals weren't confined by an eight-by-eight cage. They're in a big area.”

Since then, Donte has dreamt of purchasing a vast property in Delaware where he can live with his three dogs—including Shorty, Miles (a golden retriever) and Marshall (a pit bull-terrier mutt)—and house an adoption and rescue facility operated by his still-to-be-established foundation.

All of that remains a ways off. He has yet to settle on a location for his compound, and hopes to lay the groundwork for his foundation over the next 10-15 years.

Donte DiVincenzo

Donte's off-court dream? To create a spacious animal rescue and adoption facility in Delaware, run by his own foundation. (Amir Ebrahimi)

In the meantime, Donte is doing whatever he can to secure his financial future, for both his own good and that of the animals he hopes to help. That includes completing his coursework at Villanova, so he can get his degrees in communications and psychology, with a minor in philosophy.

“I made a deal with my mom,” he says with a smile. “My mom was, like, ‘You're not leaving.’ And I was, like, ‘I'll go back!’ She was, like, ‘You have to swear you'll take classes until you finish.’”

To keep his word to his mother, Kathie, Donte takes one class per semester during Villanova’s summer sessions—which he can balance with his offseason workout routine—to move towards graduation. Once he’s done, he will be the first in his family with a college degree.

With guidance from his financial advisor, Donte also hopes to get into finance and investing in the future. Now that he’s seen how precious his time in the NBA is, he’s meticulous with all of his fiscal decisions. 

“That money goes so quick,” he says. “There's guys that I played with in high school and against in college that do three years in the league, left after one year in college for the NBA and now they're done.”

After the Bucks selected him with the No. 17 pick in the 2017 NBA draft, Donte’s name went viral when his new teammate, D.J. Wilson, shared a photo of Donte’s bank account balances—$2.68 in checking, $1.03 in savings—on social media. With his rookie deal now in place, Donte values every dollar he makes. And though he’d like to lay the groundwork for his foundation and dog rescue now, Donte plans to wait for his next contract.

“If all goes as planned, I sign a good second contract and start the plans for [my foundation],” he says. “Because then, I'll have a certain amount of money in the bank.”

While Donte eagerly awaits the day when he has his own paradise for pets, he’s finding other ways to give back in the interim.

For one, he’s working closely with the Wisconsin Humane Society Milwaukee Campus to plan fundraisers and other events—including an online Foster Funding Challenge, in which donors earn a chance to win Bucks tickets and a meet-and-greet with Donte for every $10 given—to expand the organization’s capacity to house animals and alleviate its current overcrowding. He also wants to give local Milwaukee kids the opportunity to volunteer at the Humane Society, in order to keep more inner-city youth off the street and out of trouble.

“What I want to do with the kids is create a give-and-take relationship where the kids and animals are benefitting from each other,” he says.

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Last year alone, nearly 4,000 animals went into WHS foster homes to recover from illness, gain confidence, or make room when WHS needed to respond to emergency situations. Foster care does incredible things for animals and truly saves lives, but I’ve seen firsthand how much work it takes and how many challenges their team faces every single day. With your help, we can build a Foster Headquarters at the WHS Milwaukee Campus, making a huge difference for thousands of animals and the selfless foster parents who care for them. You can win free @bucks tickets while making a difference for shelter animals this #givingtuesday – will you join my #FosterFundingChallenge for @wischumane ? Every $10 donation counts as an entry to win 4 tickets to a Bucks game, plus passes to come hang out with me after the game – we’re drawing a new winner each week in December, so you have plenty of chances to win. There are three ways you can help – just tap the link in my bio: 1⃣ Click the “Make a Donation” button to give a gift of any size – every donation makes a difference. 2⃣ Click the “Start a Fundraiser” button to create your own fundraising page just like mine so I can cheer you on as you collect donations from friends and family. 3⃣ Share the link in my bio to spread the word, or tell your friends to text WHSFOSTER to 71777 to make a donation of any size.... THANK YOU so much during this holiday season 🙏🐶

A post shared by Donte Divincenzo (@divincenzo) on

Beyond his animal-oriented community work, Donte is additionally creating an incentive for inner-city students to receive tickets to Bucks games, in order to motivate them to do better in school. Though he’s an advocate for fun incentives like this, Donte is also concerned about the students’ lack of school supplies. Awarding them with game tickets is satisfying, but first and foremost, he wants them to have the tools they need in order to succeed in the classroom.

“Once they have the resources, then we'll just build with trying to get their grades up and getting kids involved in more things outside of school,” he says. “Because I'd rather them get involved with the Humane Society and volunteering and helping them out than get in trouble in the streets.”

Donte has also begun to extend his helping hands abroad. This season, he joined the squad at Hoops2o, an initiative founded by Malcolm Brogdon—the Indiana Pacers guard and Donte’s former Bucks teammate—to build clean water wells in East Africa. Donte plans to join Malcolm and the rest of the NBA player group, which is heavy on University of Virginia alums, on a trip to see the wells in person next year.

“Malcolm is really dedicated to it. He calls me like every other day about it,” Donte says. “We were really close when he was here, so it’s easy for him to just call me and be, like, ‘Hey, I need this.’” 

While he’s excited about the impact he’s currently making in the Milwaukee community and beyond, Donte’s goals to establish a foundation and dog rescue truly get him gushing about the future. For now, he enjoys doing what he can with the Humane Society as he looks forward to a future of rescuing as many animals as he can. He thanks his old pup, King, for having inspired him to use his platform as a way to rescue countless canines in the future.

Donte DiVincenzo

Donte joined Malcolm Brogdon's Hoops2o initiative this season. (Amir Ebrahimi)

Whenever the time comes to set down roots for his sprawling pet rescue, Donte should have little trouble finding support in his home state. He’s one of nine Delawareans to have ever played in the NBA and—aside from Trevon Duval, who hails from New Castle and has been with the G League’s Iowa Wolves this season—is the only native of the Blue Hen State who’s currently in the league.

“To be the only one from Delaware, it’s huge,” Donte says. “So any time I play, after the game, I can get all these messages and text messages and calls from everybody back home.”

And, some day, more howls from the hounds he’ll be helping, too.

 

Magdalena Munao is a Multimedia Producer for CloseUp360. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.