Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Rollie Massimino

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. >> Rollie Massimino, who led Villanova’s storied run to the 1985 NCAA championship and won more than 800 games in his coaching career, died today after a long battle with cancer. He was 82.

Massimino’s death was announced by Keiser University, where he was still the men’s basketball coach. He spent the final days of his life in hospice care.

Best known for that national title at Villanova, Massimino also coached at Stony Brook, UNLV and Cleveland State. He spent the last 11 years of his life at Keiser, where he started the program and turned it into an NAIA power.

“We are so truly honored to have shared this time with him and take some degree of comfort in knowing the positive impact he has had on college students for the last four decades remains immeasurable,” Keiser Chancellor Arthur Keiser said.

After one season at Penn, Massimino took over at Villanova. He spent 19 seasons there, best remembered by the 1985 NCAA title run that was anything but easy — for many reasons.

Villanova needed a last-second stop just to escape over Dayton (a game played at Dayton, no less) in the first round, went scoreless for the first eight minutes of the second half and somehow still beat top-seeded Michigan in the second round, and toppled Maryland in the regional semifinal — winning those three games by a combined nine points. And to get to the Final Four, Villanova erased a halftime deficit against North Carolina.

That game with the Tar Heels was the one where Massimino gave what those linked to that ‘85 team still call “the pasta speech” at halftime.

“He looked at all of us and threw his coat down,” Chuck Everson, who played on that team, said today. “He said, ‘If I knew it was going to come down to this, I’d rather have a bowl of pasta with clam sauce and a lot of cheese on it.’ Everybody was looking at him like, ‘What the heck does this have to do about playing?’ What he was saying was just go out and have some fun. Do something you like. Play. Everybody’s eyes exploded.”

Villanova dominated that second half. Pasta was had afterward.

The Wildcats downed Memphis State in the national semifinals. That left a Villanova vs. Georgetown showdown, an all-Big East final. The Hoyas won both regular-season matchups between the rivals, but Villanova shot a staggering 79 percent in the title game and pulled off a 66-64 upset when it mattered most.

“Even though his 1985 team beat us, I have always had nothing but great respect and admiration for him,” said Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing, who starred on the Hoyas’ 1985 team.

Villanova missed six shots from the field in the game, going 22 for 28.

“This is the greatest thing to ever happen to me,” Massimino said that night.

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