Good news for Villanova: Phil Booth is finally healthy

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Good news for Villanova: Phil Booth is finally healthy

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Phil Booth can live with hitting only Villanova's second-biggest buzzer beater in a national championship game.

Let's throw it back to April 2016 in Houston.

"Five seconds to go in the half. Booth. He has time. Looks up, puts it up. And got it!" TBS announcer Jim Nantz said.

"Big time dagger. Booth!" analyst Bill Raftery said.

Just like that, Booth's jumper at the horn cut North Carolina's lead to 5 at halftime.

Nantz and Raftery are about as good as it gets in the broadcast booth, but let one of the stars of the game call this one.

"That was more of a scramble around. Clock went down. Josh (Hart) made a great block and I was just trying to find a spot. I was seeing guys coming down the court trying to catch guys in transition," Booth said as he watched a highlight reel on YouTube. "I saw the clock running, so I had to make a play; either pass or shoot it, so I found a spot at the foul line."

Kris Jenkins won the NCAA title with a 3 at the buzzer and stuffed trophy cases at Villanova's state-of-the art complex.

But ask your friends at a local Nova hangout such as Kelly's Taproom who was the leading scorer in that game, and you might win a round stumping them on Booth. Booth, now a 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior guard, averaged only 7 points that season and was scoreless in 12 minutes against Kansas in the regional final. Against the Tar Heels, Booth scored a career-high 20 on 6 of 7 shooting (two 3s) and 6 of 6 free throws.

"I didn't really know or pay attention to how many points I had until I got to my phone and saw all the texts," he said. "I had no idea. I just knew we won the game."

Booth also knew he couldn't play much more on a painful left knee that even ached in warmups against the Tar Heels. Booth has no idea how the knee was injured; he just knows it wasn't the result of a direct hit and it started early in his sophomore year. He had surgery to repair a meniscus tear about a month after the national championship game and came back ready to help the Wildcats try and defend the title.

Booth felt an unrelated "flare up" on his left kneecap early last season and his year was cut to only three games. Booth against underwent surgery at the end of the season.

He missed Villanova repeat as Big East champions and was a helpless spectator when its season ended with a loss to Wisconsin in just the second game of the NCAA Tournament.

Booth is the only player wearing a suit, his hat backward and a T-shirt draped over his shoulder, in a Big East tournament championship photo that hangs in the hall of the basketball complex.

He's a future pro if healthy, and considered the risk had he pushed through the pain last season. Booth did practice at the end of the season before he was shut down near the NCAA Tournament.

"It was all about the long-term thing. It could come back. It could not," he said. "I decided to do the thing that was best for long-term playing."

Booth, whose father, Phil Booth Sr., is a Philadelphia native who starred at Northeast High School and Coppin State University, and Jalen Brunson are the only returning players who started last season's opener. Jenkins, Hart (a Lakers first-round draft pick) and Darryl Reynolds all left as part of the winningest senior class (129-17; 63-9 Big East) in program history. Donte DiVincenzo, Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman and Jermaine Samuels, widely considered one of the top high school recruits in the nation, kept the Wildcats as Big East favorites and a preseason national championship contender.

Booth has finished his rehab, but coach Jay Wright eased him back into workouts at the start of the semester. One day on, one day off. Wright, starting his 17th season at Villanova, said Booth will hit full speed with no restrictions next week.

"I'm as positive as I could possibly be right now," Wright said. "He's unique because I think he approached this with a long-term (view) to his career and his life."

Booth insisted his knees are fine and he's ready to help Villanova think long-term — all the way to the first weekend of April. His last basket against North Carolina put the Wildcats up 69-64 and had analyst Grant Hill raving: "How many times have we seen guys off the bench step in the finals and play big?!"

And that was on one bum knee.

With two good ones, Booth just may shine again in a title game.

Led by Rollie Massimino, Villanova fondly remembers 1985 championship

Led by Rollie Massimino, Villanova fondly remembers 1985 championship

Rollie Massimino took the stage surrounded by a band, students, and scores of blue-and-white balloons and delivered a speech as fiery as one of his Villanova halftime pep talks.

Thirty-one years after Massimino brought an improbable national championship to Villanova, the 80-year-old coaching lifer exhorted protege Jay Wright to win a second title.

"We're going to win tonight! We're going to win tonight!" he commanded as the crowd in Houston roared. "You have family here that is part of your own personal family, but you're part of the Villanova family. That's why we're going to win! Just remember, that part of me is we and Villanova's guys are all in it together. When Jay wins that championship, with all his great players, we're going to root, root, root for Villanova!"

The Wildcats delivered that night in 2016 for Daddy Mass and won the national championship. Six months later, Massimino returned to campus for a championship celebration and danced a little jig as he took the court. Wright, the cool, calm leader of the Wildcats, choked up when he surprised Massimino with a championship ring. The setting was perfect on a night when the 2016 banner joined the one for Massimino's `85 team in the rafters.

With Massimino in hospice care, a long battle with cancer about over, Wright traveled to Florida to say goodbye.

"We just thought if anybody was going to beat cancer and never die, you just thought it was going to be coach Mass," Wright said Wednesday. "We watched him really struggle at the end, so it's nice that he went peacefully and with his family. But it's a big void in this Villanova basketball family because his presence was just so powerful. It impacted current players, current coaches, all his players, the players that came before him, coaches before him. He was just larger than life."

The patriarch of the Villanova family is now gone. Massimino died Wednesday at his home, with his wife of 59 years and some of those closest to him at his side.

Massimino, who was still the coach at Keiser University, was 82. He won more than 800 games in his coaching career, the most notable of those wins coming when Villanova played "The Perfect Game" and stunned Georgetown for the 1985 NCAA title.

"Coach Mass' job was to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed," 1985 Wildcat Gary McLain said.

Massimino, a finalist for enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame this year, was a fixture behind the Villanova bench during its runs to the Final Four in 2009 and 2016. Wright was hired by Massimino to serve as an assistant at Villanova in 1987 and the two held the same jobs later at UNLV. When Wright was hired to coach the Wildcats, he patched the relationship between Massimino and Villanova that stemmed from an acrimonious split in 1992.

"I think he was really comfortable and knew that we all wanted him around, and he wanted to be here," Wright said. "He always wanted to be at Villanova."

Massimino, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2011, also coached at Stony Brook, UNLV and Cleveland State. He spent the last 11 years at Keiser, where he started the program and turned it into an NAIA power.

But he's forever linked to Villanova and that April 1, 1985 night when the eighth-seeded Wildcats topped mighty Georgetown for the title. They remain the lowest-seeded program to win an NCAA title.

Villanova won games against Dayton, top-seeded Michigan, No. 5 Maryland, No. 2 North Carolina, and No. 2 Memphis State before defeating Georgetown in an all-Big East final 66-64.

The Wildcats sank 22 of 28 attempts, including nine of 10 in the second half. They made 22 of 27 free throws, with 11 coming in the final two minutes. Like the Miracle on Ice, the Miracle Mets or Buster Douglas, the `85 Wildcats remain forever frozen near the top of the short list of great sports upsets.

Massimino always laughed when he said he never watched a tape of the `85 title game.

"I'm afraid we're still going to lose," he said.

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 Wednesday. "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."

Massimino would never again find that so-called one shining moment. His critics said that success ruined him, something Jim Valvano -- who led NC State to an improbable championship in 1983 -- had warned Massimino about. Massimino and Villanova were held responsible for the crumbling of Philadelphia's hallowed Big 5 and the Wildcats never got past the regional final again before he left in 1992 after 19 seasons at Villanova.

He kept his promise to his players that they would always be a part of his family. Massimino and his wife, Mary Jane, let grown men sleep on air mattresses scattered all over their home while dining on his favorites -- tons of pasta, tons of eggplant, all the while toasting the past and the future.

Until this summer when the Pavilion was closed for renovations, a 50-foot mural inside the entrance to Villanova's home court highlighted the Wildcats' greatest basketball glory. There were pictures of Massimino and photos of the 1985 title team wildly celebrating in a parade, hoisting the trophy over their heads as crowds jammed the streets of downtown Philadelphia.

Weakened by cancer, Massimino made an appearance this summer at Villanova's "Summer Jam," a chance for past and present Wildcats to celebrate under one roof. Everson and fellow `85 Wildcats Brian Harrington and Harold Pressley saw Massimino this week in hospice to tell their coach they loved him.

"The last thing he said to me was, `I love you,'" Everson said. "That's a rarity with a coach and a player relationship. That doesn't happen. He taught us that it was OK to be that way, to show your feelings like that. It was OK to do all that stuff."

Pressley laughed as he recalled a bucket list trip he made just weeks ago with Massimino to Atlantic City, New Jersey.

"I never gamble! Let's go gambling," Pressley recalled Massimino telling him. "We lost a couple of hundred dollars each. He said, `How do people do this?' I told him, Coach, let it go. It was something we had to do."

Massimino is survived by his wife, five children and 17 grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.

"He's going to live in all the players he coached, all the coaches that coached with him," Wright said. "We are all products of him."

Bernard Hopkins ready for final fight of championship career

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Associated Press

Bernard Hopkins ready for final fight of championship career

Bernard Hopkins hobbled into the gym before a sparring session using a cane to aid his small steps. He scrapped his usual stylish Prada glasses for a cheap pair old fogeys might wear and a fake gray beard that sprouted several inches past his chin.

Hopkins chuckled as he wagged his cane toward amused onlookers. Long a contender in the jumbled alphabet concoctions of boxing organizations, Hopkins seemed more fit in disguise to apply for an AARP membership. Hopkins is in on the joke and has the sober realization that not even he can KO Father Time.

At 51, Hopkins may have enough Executioner left in him to make it seem like old times again inside the ring.

Hopkins has forged his life by hook -- like the left one he threw to knock out Oscar De La Hoya -- or by crook, the time served at Graterford Prison that steeled his resolve for a boxing career. Just about a month before he turns 52, Hopkins will fight on both his word and contractual obligation for the final time in a 28-year career when he faces 27-year-old Joe Smith Jr. in a light heavyweight bout Saturday in Los Angeles.

No one savvy enough around boxing will count out Hopkins (55-7-2, 32 KOs) for a final victory. Even as the years ticked from his late 30s to his late 40s, the days of thinking of Hopkins as a washed-up fighter sure to see his career end in a thunderous embarrassment have long ended.

"Nobody's laughing at me anymore," Hopkins said. "That laughing made me motivated. How do I know it's time? I can't find no one to laugh no more."

Hopkins once promised his mother he'd retire at 40. He vowed to quit at 41 after he defeated Antonio Tarver in one of his greatest fights in 2006. The Associated Press wrote of the fight that Hopkins had a "storybook finish" and noted Tarver starred in the "final installment of the `Rocky' series."

Yet much like the fictional Rocky Balboa, Hopkins had many more rounds left in his story.

At 48, Hopkins scored a 12-round unanimous decision over Tavoris Cloud to become the oldest boxer to win a major title.

"I'm glad I reneged on that 10 years because I've added to my legacy even further," Hopkins said. "And nobody is complaining."

Hopkins packs a punch on the short list of great geezers that include Nolan Ryan throwing a no-hitter at 43 or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar still sinking hook shots at 43. Chris Chelios hung up the hockey stick at 48.

But fighting at 50? George Foreman, another geriatric great, had already traded gloves for grills by the time he hit the Big 5-0.

Once Hopkins shed the old man getup, he hit the ring and physically looked like he was in prime, save for the salt-and-pepper beard. Hopkins dismisses the wisecracks about his age. He is about as serious and dedicated as any athlete in his training. He's carved a straightedge lifestyle that bans drinking alcohol, keeps a healthy diet and a curfew of about 9 p.m. The two-weight world champion is known to splurge on a slice of cheesecake after a victory.

His fitness, his daily physical commitment, has allowed him to thrive long after fighters of his era have retired.

"If he can, and his body allows him to, why not? It's not like anybody is hurting him," De La Hoya said. "It just proves to everyone that age doesn't matter as long as you do the right thing."

Hopkins is a minority owner in De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions and he will continue to broadcast fights in retirement. Hopkins said he planned to become involved in a yet-to-be-announced boxing series that could help revitalize the East Coast boxing scene.

Whatever he does, the mouthy Hopkins will let the world know.

"I've done just about everything," Hopkins said. "People's points are well taken on how they think. But that's why we don't have a lot of people that's me."

Hopkins wore an alien mask to the ring in his last few fights and his loquaciousness always stood out even among the cartoonish personalities in boxing. He enraged a country when he stomped on a Puerto Rican flag in San Juan. He said that Manny Pacquiao should fight more black fighters. Hopkins' biggest foe was his most bizarre one; a one-sided verbal lashing of former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.

While never stylistically pleasing, few middleweights ever performed better than Hopkins during a 10-year reign as champ. He called himself "the reincarnation of Ray Robinson and Marvin Hagler" when he defeated Felix Trinidad on Sept. 29, 2001 in the defining fight of his Hall of Fame career.

Hopkins lost his first fight in Atlantic City in 1988 and didn't lose again until 1993. He made 20 successful middleweight title defenses and boasts multiple runs as light heavyweight champion.

Hopkins saw quality opponents dry up the last few years and hasn't fought since a 12-round decision loss to Sergey Kovalev on Nov. 8, 2014.

But Hopkins never stopped pushing for that final bout. He wanted to hear the bell sound for the last time on his own terms.

"Rules don't apply to everyone," Hopkins said. "That can go a long way. I don't look at it as others do as Russian Roulette. Rolling the dice. I look at it as, I'm one of those exceptions to the rules."

He'll be the exception again when he steps inside the ropes at the Forum. The ex-con from the Philly streets who learned to box in prison has become nothing short of a model citizen forever stamped as one of the sport's great fighters.

"I came, I proved and I showed that my legacy is always based on what they say I couldn't do," Hopkins said.