Rollie Massimino

Jay Wright reveals Villanova jersey patch honoring Rollie Massimino

Jay Wright reveals Villanova jersey patch honoring Rollie Massimino

Villanova basketball will honor legendary coach Rollie Massimino's memory with a commemorative "RVM" patch on the team's jerseys this season.

Head coach Jay Wright, a protege of Massimino, tweeted out a glimpse at the patch on Twitter Thursday.

Massimino, who led the Wildcats to their historic upset over Georgetown to win the 1985 national championship,  died at the age of 82 on Wednesday, August 30. 

Villanova will hold funeral arrangements for the iconic coach on Monday, September 11 and Tuesday, September 12.

 

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."

Massimino showed Big 5 coaches the impact that can be made on players

Massimino showed Big 5 coaches the impact that can be made on players

The Palestra was nearly empty. It was an October scrimmage pitting an NAIA team vs. an Ivy League team. And the opposing coach was over 80 years old.

But much to Penn head coach Steve Donahue's amazement and delight, that opposing coach — Rollie Massimino — was still doing Rollie things.

He was up on his feet, yelling at his Keiser University players, having fun, even playfully punching a Penn player in the arm at one point after he hit a few three-pointers right in front of him during the exhibition game last October between Keiser and the host Quakers.

"He really had great passion and enthusiasm," Donahue said. "To be 82 and coaching like he did last year, I marvel at that. Coaching has changed so dramatically. Guys do it for different reasons. It was pretty apparent Rollie did it for the relationships with the young people and helping them get better. I think that's who Rollie was."

Rollie Massimino, the legendary Villanova head coach and basketball lifer who went on to run the UNLV, Cleveland State and Keiser programs, died Wednesday after battling cancer and other health problem for years.

And while his death hit the Villanova family hard — particularly his protege Jay Wright, who gave an emotional interview about what Massimino meant to him — it also struck a chord with the rest of the Big 5 coaches who came to know him well and appreciated what he meant for basketball in the city.

"He was an icon in Philadelphia college coaching," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "We all felt a tie to him. He was good to everybody. Once he knew what you were doing and what you were asking, he was gonna put his whole heart and soul into it.

"It didn't matter if you were a Villanova guy or you weren't. You were a basketball guy and that's all that mattered to him."

Like everyone, Dunphy has vivid memories of Massimino guiding Villanova on their stunning run to the 1985 national championship. An assistant at American University at the time (in a few months, he'd begin a 30-plus-year coaching run in the Big 5 at La Salle), he marveled at what he saw, calling it "wonderful to watch" and saying the 'Cats play "pretty much the perfect game."

Then a graduate assistant at the University of North Texas, La Salle head coach John Giannini watched in awe from his dorm lounge, saying that "I don't think college basketball fans anywhere will ever forget that."

And Donahue, who graduated from Ursinus a year earlier, remembers what the '85 championship meant for the Philadelphia — as well as the next generation of the city's coaches.

"The city needed a champion," the Penn head coach said. "It wasn't just Villanova. At the time, I was really proud that Villanova was our team. In '85, I just remember thinking this was just an incredible achievement and the city getting behind it was really remarkable.

"And I just think he made guys like myself and other people really start looking at coaching and how much you can have an impact on kids."

For young coaches like Donahue, Massimino was the perfect person to try emulate. He wasn't flashy and didn't necessarily look the part, but he focused on the important things like building relationships, having players over to his house for bowls of spaghetti, and generally treating a program like a family.

"Rollie was who he was," Donohue said. "And there was something really refreshing in that — that you could achieve greatness in coaching being yourself."

"He was a throwback, no question," Dunphy added. "He was a coach's coach."

Dunphy first met Massimino in the early 1970s when Massimino was an assistant at Penn for a season under Chuck Daly. Saint Joseph's head coach Phil Martelli came to know him well not long after when his wife, Judy, was an assistant coach at Villanova, and Massimino showed him what kind of person he is.

"He reached out to us when our daughter Elizabeth had a serious surgery at the age of 3, and throughout my career at Saint Joseph's," Martelli said. "He has been a presence both on the sidelines at Villanova and in the Philadelphia basketball world."

That relationship continued for four decades with Massimino making a stop at Martelli's camp in Avalon, N.J., this past August, taking a photo with Martelli that the St. Joe's coach said he'll "treasure for the rest of my life." Martelli and the rest of the Big 5 coaches also honored him with a special ceremony during their Coaches vs. Cancer gala in April 2016.

"That was great," Dunphy said. "He was struggling at that point physically but he'd never let you know, never entered his thought process. He was always gonna fight it."

Perhaps the best part was that Rollie was still himself in his final years, a fierce competitor on the court and a warm friend off of it. He was still the guy who once shared a wonderful dinner with Giannini during the European Championships in Sicily, bonding over Italian food and their shared Italian heritage. And he was still the guy, too, that met Donahue for the first time by approaching him at a restaurant in Havertown and pretending to give him a hard time at the request of a former player who knew them both.

"Rollie was like that — he would play the practical joke, he would have fun," Donahue said. "He was just someone who loved to be around people. Even in the last couple years of his life, he still wanted to be around people. He wanted to coach. Every day was fun for him and exciting. That's why I think he coached, literally, until the day he died."

Coaching as long as he did certainly came with sacrifices, of course. Giannini remembers a time when Massimino called him to set up an exhibition vs. La Salle while getting a blood transfusion.

"I just thought about the level of toughness it takes to be working when you're getting that kind of treatment," the La Salle coach said. "I also thought about the kind of love of basketball it takes. I think it's inspirational that, as recently as the last few months, he was still doing what he loves."

That's just one reason why Massimino will be so missed — around the country certainly but especially in the Philadelphia area's tight-knit basketball community.

"One word that's overused is the word legend," Giannini said. "But someone who changes hundreds of lives and someone who succeeds at the highest level and someone who makes history I think qualifies as a legend. Coach Massimino is definitely a legend."

"He loved coaching and he loved working with kids," Dunphy added. "And he loved the relationships with the players. It didn't matter if it was Villanova or UNLV or Cleveland State or Keiser University. Him coaching was what life was all about. And I don't know if I've ever seen anybody fight this disease as hard as he did."