Rollie Massimino, the coach of Villanova's 1985 NCAA title team, dies at 82
Massimino, a Big East legend, coached one of the greatest upsets in NCAA Tournament history
Rollie Massimino, who coached Villanova to one of college basketball's biggest upsets in national championship game history, has died at 82.
Keiser University, the NAIA school in West Palm Beach, Florida, where Massimino coached for the last 11 seasons, announced his death Wednesday.
Massimino, who had recently entered hospice care after a long bout with cancer, most famously led the 1985 Wildcats to a 66-64 victory vs. Big East rival, and overwhelming favorite, No. 1 Georgetown. The Wildcats shot 78.6 percent in that game and used clock management to limit possessions against the physically superior Hoyas, led by All-American Patrick Ewing. Villanova's victory prevented Georgetown from capturing consecutive national championships, and in the process vaulted the Big East's reputation as the strongest conference in the sport during the 1980s.
"Eddie Pinckney loved to play against Patrick and they both had something going,". "They challenged each other every time they played against each other. John Thompson and I had a wonderful relationship, still do as a matter of fact. So it was something that was very special. People ask would you rather play St. John's than Georgetown -- it didn't really make any difference at that time. ... We were playing Georgetown on a Saturday and playing St. John's on a Monday or vice versa. We would play two No. 1 teams in the country on a Saturday and a Monday!"
Nova's championship came during the first year of the 64-team tournament era. Villanova was a No. 8 seed, and to this day the Wildcats are the lowest-seeded team to win a Division I basketball title.
"The Nova Nation has lost a legend and great leader," Villanova coach Jay Wright said in a statement. "Coach's love of family, community and teamwork were evident in every game his teams ever played. All of us, as coaches and players, idolized Coach Mass. He inspired and impacted all of our lives. He never stopped being a cherished mentor and friend. All of us in the Villanova Basketball family extend our deepest sympathies to Mrs. Mass, his wife of 59 years, his five children -- Tom, Lee Ann, Michele, R.C. and Andrew -- and his 17 grandchildren."
Massimino, who was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013, won 816 games in 41 seasons of coaching, 357 of those victories coming during his 19-year run at Villanova. He coached the Wildcats to the Elite Eight five times from 1978-1988. He began his career at Stony Brook, and also coached Division I at UNLV and Cleveland State.
He spent the final 11 basketball seasons of his life on the sidelines coaching Keiser. He won 80 percent of his games, coaching the Seahawks to a 298-75 mark.
"He was always the same," Steve Lappas, who served as Massimino's assistant on the '85 championship team and is a CBS Sports college basketball commentator, said. "Nothing came easy for him. He was the son of immigrants and wanted to be a basketball coach. Very similar to me, because I was the son of immigrants, which is why we had such a great relationship."
Massimino met Lappas when Lappas was coaching at Harry Truman High School in the Bronx. Lappas made such a good impression on Massimino, he found himself on Villanova's staff within a matter of months. Lappas recalled how trusting and caring Massimino was then -- when he was nearing the height of his stature in college basketball.
"When I got the job I felt like I was going to work for one of the top five or seven coaches in the country," Lappas said. "He'd been to three final eights in the previous five years. Never lost a first-round NCAA Tournament until the '90s. He was one of the most respected coaches in America before he won the championship. You know who you would liken him to today? Sean Miller."
Massimino was born in Hillside, New Jersey, and is considered one of the defining figures in Big East basketball history, alongside the likes of Thompson, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, St. John's Lou Carnesecca and UConn's Jim Calhoun. His career on the sidelines began in 1959, when he was an assistant high school coach and worked under a then-unknown young man who would go on to become a Hall of Fame coach himself: Hubie Brown.
"Even though he was from a different era, in a lot of ways, he related to kids well," Lappas said.
From that first job in Cranford, New Jersey, until his final one with Keiser University, Massimino coached basketball for 55 of the final 58 years of his life. Massimino was a true basketball lifer, and someone who coached until his final days.
Here is how his crowning achievement played out at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky, on April 1, 1985.
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