Villanova Wildcats

Jay Wright on Rollie Massimino: 'He was just an incredible force on this Earth'

Jay Wright on Rollie Massimino: 'He was just an incredible force on this Earth'

As Villanova prepared to face North Carolina for the 2016 national championship, head coach Jay Wright wasn’t sure if Rollie Massimino would be able to be there. The former ’Nova coach had flown to Houston for the Final Four but couldn’t make the Wildcats’ national semifinal thrashing of Oklahoma as he dealt with the serious health issues that slowed him down over the last few years of his life.

But when Kris Jenkins hit a championship-winning shot for the ages, good ol’ Rollie was right there in the crowd, hugging people, laughing and soaking in a magical national title 31 years after he led the ’Cats to a magical one of his own.

“He was really sick during that Final Four,” Wright said. “But when he got there, all of a sudden the lights came on and he was on top of his game. I knew — and we all knew — that it meant probably as much to him that we won as it did when he won it.”

That’s because Villanova remained a huge part of his life, long after he left the program in 1992 following a brilliant 19-year run on the Main Line. And that’s also why his death Wednesday hit the entire Villanova community extremely hard (see story).

“He knew we all wanted him to be around,” an emotional Wright told reporters Wednesday. “And he wanted to be here. He always wanted to be at Villanova. 

"We’ll have the funeral here at Villanova. This is home.”

Knowing Massimino was in hospice care after battling cancer and other health problems for years, Wright went down to Florida to visit Massimino on Monday, along with many of his former players. The 82-year-old couldn't communicate at that point but Wright was able to say his final goodbyes to a man who shaped him into the coach — and the man — he is today by teaching him to treat a basketball program like a family.

He plans to continue carrying on those lessons into this season, when Villanova will honor Massimino in several yet-to-be-determined ways, and for many seasons after that. 

“That’s the best thing about Coach Mass,” Wright said. “He’s such a powerful force, he’s gonna live in all the players he coached, all the coaches that coached with him. We are all products of him.”

The stories of Massimino as a man are legendary, too. Fun-loving and affable, Massimino absolutely loved the people in his orbit — and loved playfully ribbing them. After Wright joined the Villanova staff in 1987, he said Massimino joked that he hired him because he thought he was Italian — and when he found out he wasn’t, he told him to keep it quiet.

“I can finally admit it now,” Wright said, “and he won’t get mad.”

The Villanova coach recounted another story from when Massimino first got the job at Northwood (now called Keiser) in 2006 and said in his introductory press conference that Villanova would be the first game on the schedule — at Northwood. When Wright got a call asking about this, he didn’t know Massimino had taken the job or even what Northwood, an NAIA school in Florida, was. And yet ... 

“I didn’t say anything but I thought, I’m probably gonna have to do it if he said so,” Wright recalled. “And we did.”

While Northwood/Keiser is certainly a much different level than Villanova, the fact that Massimino continued to coach there practically until the day he died was a remarkable thing for Wright to see — and indicative of how much basketball meant to him, even as his health deteriorated.

“He had every kind of cancer and he just wouldn’t stop,” Wright said. “He wouldn’t stop coaching. I really thought it kept him going, maybe for three or four extra years.”

Sometimes, it seemed like he’d keep coaching forever. And living forever, too.

“Coach Mass was just bigger than life,” Wright said. “I just thought if anybody was gonna beat cancer and never die, it was gonna be Coach Mass.”

In the end, though, even legends die. But from all the wins he amassed on the basketball court to the stories he made off of it, Massimino’s memory will live on forever.

“No one got more out of life than him,” Wright said. “He ate everything that was in front of him. He had a lot of good cigars. He drank a lot of wine. He had a lot of friends. He didn’t miss out on anything. He lived a full life. And all of his players from Northwood to Cleveland State to UNLV to Villanova, they all love him. 

“He was just an incredible force on this Earth.”

Donte DiVincenzo latest Villanova player to declare for NBA draft

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USA Today Images

Donte DiVincenzo latest Villanova player to declare for NBA draft

Another Villanova star is moving on ... maybe.

Donte DiVincenzo has declared for the NBA draft but will not hire an agent, meaning he can test the draft waters but will maintain his college eligibility should he chose to return to school. 

The redshirt sophomore was voted the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player after scoring a career-high 31 points in Villanova' national title win over Michigan. 

“Donte has consistently improved in his time at Villanova through dedication and a commitment to our core values,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “His play this season has created a unique opportunity for him to receive feedback from NBA teams in the draft process. We support Donte fully and our staff will work together with him and his family to help him assess the next step in his basketball career.”

DiVincenzo averaged 13.4 points and 3.5 assists while shooting 48.1 percent from the field. His numbers jumped to 15 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists 54.7 percent shooting during the NCAA Tournament.

He must decide by May 30 if he will enter the draft or return to school.

DiVincenzo is the latest Wildcat to declare for the draft, as the mass exodus of stars continues for Villanova.

Mikael Bridges and Jalen Brunson have declared and hired agents, marking the end of their collegiate careers, while redshirt freshman Omari Spellman will also test the waters.

On the bright side, Phil Booth and Eric Paschall announced they will both return for next season.

Omari Spellman enters name in draft, but doesn't hire agent

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AP Images

Omari Spellman enters name in draft, but doesn't hire agent

Villanova might be losing yet another star player. 

This time, redshirt freshman Omari Spellman is entering his name for the 2018 NBA draft process. But unlike Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, Spellman won’t hire an agent. That’s an important distinction. 

Basically, this will allow Spellman to test the waters of the draft with the option of pulling his name and returning to Villanova for another season. He would need to withdraw from the draft by May 30 to maintain his eligibility. 

“Omari’s intelligence and willingness to be coached allowed him to make great strides last season,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said in a statement. “His development as a complete Villanova Basketball player was instrumental to our team’s success. We look forward to working together with Omari and his family in the coming weeks as they go through the process of evaluating the next step in his basketball career.”

During the 2017-18 season, Spellman was the Big East and Big 5 Rookie of the Year. He started all but one game during the season, averaging 10.9 points and 8.0 rebounds. He also led the Wildcats with 59 blocked shots. In addition to his big-man skills — Spellman is 6-9, 245 — he also hit over 43 percent of his shots from three. 

While we’ve heard from Spellman, Brunson and Bridges, still no word from Donte DiVincenzo or Eric Paschall about their future. The deadline for early entry to the draft is at 11:59 p.m. on April 22.