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Meet Delaware Basketball’s Dream Starting Five, According to an Expert

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Photo courtesy of UCLA Athletic Department

The First State has long been a hub for basketball talent, so sports historian Clayton Trutor shares who’d make his dream team.

Clayton Trutor holds a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Boston College and teaches at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont. He is the author of Loserville: How Professional Sports Remade Atlanta—and How Atlanta Remade Professional Sports (University of Nebraska Press, February 2022).

Despite being 46th in population and 49th in area, the First State has proven to be a factory for basketball talent, both in the past and present. More than 20 current and former NBA or WNBA players either hail from or have resided here, including a handful of college and pro superstars that we call Delaware’s Starting Five—a dream team that could take on top clubs from any number of larger states.

Joey Graham

Forward

Colleges: University of Central Florida (2000–2002), Oklahoma State (2003–2005)

NBA: Toronto Raptors (2005–2009), Denver Nuggets (2009–2010), Cleveland Cavaliers (2010–2011)

collegiate-player

Joey Graham makes the author’s dream team for his impressive collegiate and professional career playing as a forward. Here he is driving to the net during one of his two seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers./Photo courtesy of Oklahoma Athletic Department

Twin brothers Joey and Stephen Graham began their journey together in Wilmington in 1982. The sons of a Navy airman, the Graham brothers relocated frequently with their family before settling in Hillsborough County, Florida. The 6-foot-6 tandem starred at Brandon High in Brandon, Florida, both earning scholarships to the University of Central Florida. After two seasons, the brothers transferred together to Big 12 basketball power Oklahoma State, a move that paid immediate dividends for Eddie Sutton’s Cowboys.

Joey became one of the featured attractions on the 2003–2004 Oklahoma State roster, averaging better than 12 points and five rebounds per game while earning third-team All-Big 12 honors. Stephen made steady contributions off the bench for the Cowboys. Oklahoma State won both the Big 12 regular season and conference tournament title before making a run to the 2004 NCAA Final Four.

In 2004–2005, Joey further asserted himself as one of the country’s best players, earning first-team All-Big 12 honors and honorable mention on many All-American teams as a small forward. Stephen, too, made significant strides, becoming the first player off the bench on an Oklahoma State team that reached the Sweet 16.

In June 2005, the Toronto Raptors selected Joey 16th overall in the first round of the NBA Draft. Stephen also made it to the NBA, spending parts of six seasons on seven clubs. Joey gets the edge over his brother Stephen on Delaware’s Starting Five due to his more impressive collegiate and professional careers. Joey spent four years in Toronto, battling a series of injuries while platooning at small forward. His final season with the Raptors (2008–2009) was his strongest, as he posted career-highs in points (7.7) and rebounds (3.8) per game. He bounced from Denver to Cleveland in his final two NBA campaigns.

Following his six-year NBA career, Joey played two seasons of professional ball in Puerto Rico (2012–2014). He has since returned to Stillwater, Oklahoma, where he played his college ball, and is working as a high school basketball coach. His twin brother Stephen is currently working as a player development coach with the Denver Nuggets.

Donte Divincenzo

Guard 

College: Villanova (2015–2018)

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks (2018–Present)

Donte DiVincenzo became the face of the Villanova men’s basketball program during its championship run in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, the third such title in school history. “The Big Ragu,” as CBS commentator Gus Johnson famously nicknamed the red-haired Wilmington native, was selected as the Big East’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2018. He capped off Villanova’s third championship season by earning the Most Outstanding Player award at the 2018 NCAA Final Four. In the 2018 national championship game, DiVincenzo poured in a career-high 31 points against Michigan in a 79–62 rout. He has since made a name for himself in the backcourt of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, who have asserted themselves in recent years as the league’s best young team.

Born in Newark, DiVincenzo became one of the most highly recruited prep basketball players in Delaware history, drawing interest from many of the country’s top programs. He was primarily a soccer player in his early years before switching to basketball. Always athletic, he grew into a 6-foot-4-inch shooting guard during his tenure at Salesianum School in Wilmington, and soon emerged as an elite shooter, ballhandler and defender.

basketball

Donte DiVincenzo was the face of the Villanova men’s basketball program as he helped the team advance to and then win the 2018 NCAA championship. He went on to play guard for the Milwaukee Bucks, where he remains today./Photo courtesy of Villanova University Athletic Department: UCLA Athletic Department.

DiVincenzo guided Sallies to state championships in 2014 and 2015, the school’s first since the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association created the modern state tournament in 1967. As a senior in 2015, he was named the state’s top boys basketball player by the Delaware Sportswriters and Broadcasters Association.

DiVincenzo chose to play his college basketball at Villanova and soon became a firecracker in the Jay Wright–coached Wildcats lineup. “The defensive intensity you saw in Donte’s game at Villanova and now with the Milwaukee Bucks is rooted in the coaching he got at Sallies,” says John Noonan, who began coaching and mentoring DiVincenzo in middle school. After redshirting his first year due to a foot injury, DiVincenzo displayed his versatility and athleticism for the Wildcats during his redshirt freshman (2016–2017) and sophomore (2017–2018) years, coming off the bench for Villanova and making decisive contributions for the Big East power at both ends of the floor.

Following the 2018 season, DiVincenzo declared for the NBA Draft. The Milwaukee Bucks selected him with the 17th pick of the first round. For the past three seasons, DiVincenzo has starred for Milwaukee, helping to anchor the backcourt for the back-to-back Central Division champions (2019, 2020).

While injuries limited DiVincenzo to 27 games in his rookie season (2018–2019), he played a full campaign in 2019–2020 and established himself as Milwaukee’s starting shooting guard. Playing alongside the likes of All-Stars Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Sallies alum finds himself in an enviable position. Milwaukee is poised to compete for the NBA championship for years to come.

Walt Hazzard

Guard 

College: UCLA (1961–1964)

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers (1964–1967), Seattle SuperSonics (1967–1968, 1973–1974), Atlanta Hawks (1968–1971), Buffalo Braves (1971–1972), Golden State Warriors (1972–1973)

UCLA

Walt Hazzard’s basketball career began in Wilmington in 1942. He would go on to play guard at UCLA and then in the NBA for a number of teams, including the Lakers and Golden State Warriors. Here he is captured on his way to scoring during a UCLA game./Photo courtesy of UCLA Athletic Department

An Olympic gold medalist, an NBA All-Star and an NCAA champion, Walt Hazzard led a unique basketball life that began in Wilmington in 1942. Hazzard’s family eventually settled in West Philadelphia, where he starred on the Overbrook High School basketball team and led them to the city championship during his junior year (1959). He accepted a scholarship offer from University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), which was just starting to emerge under John Wooden as a national power in the early 1960s.

Hazzard and fellow future NBA star Gail Goodrich shared UCLA’s backcourt in the early ’60s and became the program’s first legitimate superstars. As a senior, Hazzard captained the 1963–1964 UCLA club to a 30–0 season and the first of its 10 national championships under Wooden. Hazzard was second on the team in scoring to Goodrich and its top defender, spearheading the team’s suffocating zone press defense.

He earned All-American honors in 1964 and was also named the Most Outstanding Player of that year’s NCAA Final Four. Following his exemplary college career, Hazzard joined Bill Bradley and Larry Brown on the 1964 U.S. Olympic basketball team, which crushed nine consecutive opponents en route to a gold medal at the Summer Games in Tokyo.

The Los Angeles Lakers selected Hazzard with the second pick of the 1964 NBA Draft. He made an immediate contribution on the Lakers, backing up the likes of Jerry West, Dick Barnett and, later, his former college teammate Gail Goodrich on L.A.’s championship-contending teams. In each of his first two seasons, the Lakers fell to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. Following the 1967 season, the brand-new Seattle SuperSonics franchise selected Hazzard in the league’s expansion draft. Hazzard had a career year in 1967–1968, scoring nearly 20 points per game and earning his only bid to the NBA All-Star Game.

The next season, Hazzard was on the move again, traded to the Atlanta Hawks in a blockbuster deal that brought future Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens to Seattle. For the next six seasons, Hazzard proved to be a steady contributor on the strong Atlanta teams of the late 1960s before becoming a journeyman in the early 1970s.

During this time, Hazzard became a Muslim and changed his name to Mahdi Abdul-Rahman but started going by his birth name again when he began coaching following his retirement from the NBA in 1974. Hazzard got the opportunity to coach his alma mater, UCLA, for four seasons from 1984 to 1988, guiding the team to a National Invitation Tournament (NIT) championship in 1985 and a bid to the 1987 NCAA Tournament.

In later years, Hazzard served as a scout for the Lakers. After a lengthy battle with a series of health problems, Hazzard died in 2011 at age 69.

delaware-basketball

Walt Hazzard holds the trophy following the UCLA Bruins’ 1964 NCAA championship title. He is shown with coach John Wooden./Photo courtesy of UCLA Athletic Department

Charles ‘Tarzan’ Cooper

Center 

Professional: New York Renaissance (1929–1940)

Many basketball historians regard Charles “Tarzan” Cooper as the game’s first great center. At 6 feet, 5 inches, he was a giant on the professional courts of the 1920s and 1930s, earning him the “Tarzan” moniker for his enormous size. Cooper also possessed a physique like a professional bodybuilder, enabling him to take control of games as a defender. Born in Newark in 1907, Cooper was an African American player in an age of segregated professional basketball. He made his name on the nation’s extensive independent circuit, playing against both Black and white opponents for more than two decades.

Cooper moved as a child to South Philly and starred at the city’s Central High School. After playing in relative obscurity for several independent teams during the latter half of the 1920s, Cooper joined up with the New York Renaissance, the country’s best Black independent basketball team.

Though never an elite scorer, Cooper was a genuine menace to opposing offenses. In the low post, he was a human flyswatter, blocking shots with impunity for the New York “Rens.” Cooper was similarly unmatched as a rebounder.

During his 11 seasons with the Rens, the club dominated Black professional basketball and won the first World Championship of Professional Basketball, a tournament that featured the best pro teams from across the country.

Cooper returned to Philadelphia permanently after his retirement. In 1977, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame and died in 1980 at the age of 73.

Elena Delle Donne

Forward

College: University of Delaware (2009–2013)

WNBA: Chicago Sky (2013–2016), Washington Mystics (2017–present)

Wilmington’s Elena Delle Donne is one of the finest ambassadors the state of Delaware has ever known, both on and off the court. Without question, she is our most decorated basketball player. Delle Donne has been named the WNBA’s Most Valuable Player on two occasions, in 2015 and 2019. She earned the league’s Rookie of the Year award in 2013 for the Chicago Sky and led the Washington Mystics to their first WNBA championship in 2019. She won a gold medal as a member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team.

In recent years, she has become well known for writing inspirational children’s books, working with Special Olympics and becoming an activist on a number of social issues.

Before Delle Donne became a star on the professional and international stage, she starred at the University of Delaware and Wilmington’s Ursuline Academy.

“From the day I started working with her, it was obvious that she was uniquely talented,” Ursuline girls basketball coach John Noonan says of Elena’s game. Noonan became her skills coach in the second grade. He marveled at her coordination and athletic ability, particularly since she was much taller than any of the other children her age. Noonan drilled her on the fundamentals of the game, particularly ballhandling, to ensure that coaches did not simply anchor her under the rim because of her height. To say the least, the approach worked. In high school, she led Ursuline to three consecutive state championships, becoming the leading scorer in the school’s history. She was widely regarded as the best prep player in the country.

university-of-delaware

Wilmington’s Elena Delle Donne is one of the finest ambassadors the state of Delaware has ever known, both on and off the court. Without question, she is our most decorated basketball player./Photo courtesy of University of Delaware Athletic Department

At the University of Delaware, Delle Donne set virtually every school record and led the Blue Hens to a pair of NCAA Tournament bids. She became one of just five female players in NCAA history to score more than 3,000 career points. Delle Donne earned All-American honors on three occasions and was named the 2013 Honda National Player of the Year.

Delle Donne was an out-of-the-box superstar in the WNBA. Selected second overall in the 2013 WNBA Draft by the Chicago Sky, Delle Donne led the previously moribund Chicago club to its first playoff appearance in her first year while snagging the league’s Rookie of the Year award. Ever since, Delle Donne has been one of the league’s premier offensive and defensive players, earning six All-Star Game selections to date.

In 2015, she led the league in scoring, averaging 23.4 points per game en route to her first WNBA MVP award. She joined the U.S. women’s basketball team at the 2016 Rio Olympics, which routed all opposition on its way to their eighth gold medal.

In 2017, Delle Donne was traded to Washington in exchange for two elite players and the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft. Delle Donne proved worthy of the steep price paid by the Mystics, leading the club to its first championship in 2019. She again earned league MVP honors in 2019, leading the team in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots.

Success or not, Delle Donne remains Delaware through and through. She returns to visit her close-knit family regularly and still works on her basketball skills with longtime coach Noonan.

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