Villanova Wildcats

Legendary Villanova coach Rollie Massimino dies at 82

Legendary Villanova coach Rollie Massimino dies at 82

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — There was a night earlier this year when Rollie Massimino's home was filled by family, friends and many members of the 1985 Villanova team that he led to the national championship. A half-dozen pounds of pasta was boiling on the stove, a massive tray of eggplant was warming in the oven and Massimino could not stop smiling.

He raised his glass and shouted over the noise.

"This is what it's about," Massimino said. "Family. All of you, family."

The patriarch of that family is now gone. Massimino — who battled cancer and other health problems for years — 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 stunned Georgetown for the 1985 NCAA title.

"The Nova Nation has lost a legend and great leader," Villanova coach Jay Wright said (more from him here). "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."

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.

"As our campus community deeply mourns the loss of Coach Massimino, we extend our warmest thoughts and condolences to his wife, Mary Jane, and the entire Massimino family," Keiser Chancellor Arthur Keiser said. "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."

Massimino was no figurehead at Keiser. He was coaching until the very end, stomping on the sideline when angry with referees, doing the same pregame rituals this season as he did 30 years ago at Villanova. A leather desk chair was wheeled to the sideline for each practice for him to use if he needed a rest; most days, that chair went completely unoccupied.

"Some days, we do take him for granted," Keiser guard Andrija Sarenac said earlier this year. "But then you see him on TV so much, you see all these videos made about him, the movies about Villanova and everything, and it just hits you. You realize that he's a legend. I mean, your coach is a walking legend. With the energy and everything he comes in with, it's inspiring."

Massimino left Villanova a quarter-century ago, yet was still very much a part of who the Wildcats are today — largely because of how Wright revered him.

Wright was given a championship ring from 1985, and Massimino was given a championship ring from 2016. Wright wasn't working at Villanova during the first title season; Massimino wasn't there for the second one. But Wright worked Massimino's camps in the mid-1980s before coming to Villanova, so that made him part of the family.

Massimino always went out of his way to take care of those he considered family. So Wright got that 1985 ring. And the only moment when Wright teared up at Villanova's 2016 ring ceremony was when he handed Massimino his piece of championship jewelry.

"When you're a young coach and you grow up in Philly, Rollie Massimino is a legend to you," Wright said.

Roland Vincent Massimino was born Nov. 13, 1934, in New Jersey, played his college basketball at Vermont and got his master's degree from Rutgers. His first head coaching job was at his alma mater, Hillside High School, in 1962. His college coaching career started at Stony Brook in 1969, and after two seasons he became an assistant at Penn — under Chuck Daly.

Massimino and Daly would remain close until Daly's death in 2009. Like Daly, Massimino was always dapper on the sidelines. So when Daly died, Massimino took Daly's collection of sharp dress shoes and wore a pair in every game he coached for the remainder of his life.

"Chuck is always with me," Massimino said earlier this year.

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 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."

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.

Massimino spent two seasons at UNLV, seven more at Cleveland State and the last 11 at Keiser (which was called Northwood when he started). Keiser went to the NAIA national tournament nine times in his 11 seasons.

It only seemed like Massimino knew everyone. He dined with Frank Sinatra, got to be a Dodgers batboy under Tommy Lasorda and loved Perry Como.

"Hall of Fame coach," Kentucky coach John Calipari said Wednesday, "and human being."

Massimino, who was a finalist for enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame this year, is survived by his wife, five children and 17 grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.

"People say I've given a lot to basketball," Massimino told AP earlier this year. "Let me tell you something: Basketball has given a whole lot more to me."

AP sports writer Dan Gelston in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

Villanova routs UConn behind strong defense

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Villanova routs UConn behind strong defense

BOX SCORE

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Top-ranked Villanova didn't shoot particularly well against UConn, but routed their former Big East rivals thanks to defense and rebounding.

Jalen Brunson scored 23 points and Donte DiVincenzo added 17 points off the bench to lead the Wildcats to an 81-61 win, completing their non-conference schedule at 13-0.

Jalen Adams scored 19 and Christian Vital had 15 for UConn (10-9), which has now lost five games this season by at least 20 points.

The Wildcats (18-1) hit just two of their first 13 shots, but still led 13-5 early after seven offensive boards and a pair of 3-pointers by DiVincenzo.

A jumper from Adams brought the Huskies within five points at 21-16, but that would be the last time UConn threatened.

"We weren't really too worried about it," DiVincenzo said. "We were just trying to get back on the defensive end and just get stops. I think after that we missed four or five straight, but we got back to the offensive glass every time."

Villanova scored 18 of the final 20 points before intermission and the rout was on. A lob from Brunson to Eric Paschell gave the Wildcats their first double-digit lead at 26-16. They headed to halftime up 39-18 and the sellout crowd serenaded the Huskies with a chorus of boos .

Another 3-pointer from DiVincenzo gave Villanova a 70-39 lead midway through the second half , and sent many of those same fans to the exits.

"When we separated, we got it going off our defense," said Villanova coach Jay Wright. "Jay (Brunson) got some steals, (Phil) Booth got some steals, kicked ahead to Jay. So, I think it was still our defensive rebounding."

Since the breakup of the old Big East, both teams have won national titles -- UConn in 2014 and Villanova in 2016. But the programs seem to be headed in opposite directions. The Wildcats are 147-18 since joining the new Big East and 50-5 since the start of the 2016-17season. UConn is 103-60 in the same span, but just 26-26 the last two seasons.

"We've just got to keep fighting," said UConn coach Kevin Ollie. "We can go down the list of what we need. I wish I had a 7-footer, 7-2 guy. I wish I had a premier, all athletes, all shooters. But at the end of the day, we got heart."

Big picture
Villanova: Villanova shot 41 percent, well below their season average of just under 52 percent. But they held the Huskies to 34 percent and outrebounded UConn 48-32, including 16-8 on the offensive end.

The Wildcats are 62-3 in regular-season non-conference games since 2013-14.

UConn: Terry Larrier, who had been averaging better than 15 points per game, took an elbow to the face this month against UCF and has been suffering headaches that caused him to miss Tuesday's loss at Memphis. He was diagnosed with a fracture to his sinus wall and wore a mask on Saturday, scoring six points in 34 minutes. Ollie said Larrier will undergo surgery this week and is expected to miss between a week and 10 days if all goes well.

All five fingers in
Brunson started the game 1 of 7 from the floor, before making eight of his last nine shots. Wright praised the All-American, for his maturity and leadership qualities, joking that he also keeps himself impeccable and "his mittens are nice and perfect." Brunson was quick to correct his coach, noting that he would never wear mittens and prefers gloves with fabric that allows him to use his phone.

But, "when it comes to basketball, I'm all in, all serious and all for the team."

Chasing history
Wright needs just 10 more wins to become Villanova's winningest coach. Alexander Severance had 413 wins between 1936 and 1961. Wright is now 404-162 with the Wildcats.

Up next
Villanova: The Wildcats return to Big East action on Tuesday, hosting Providence.

UConn. The Huskies return to campus on Thursday to host SMU.

Villanova still sitting pretty in the AP poll

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Villanova still sitting pretty in the AP poll

Villanova is getting pretty accustomed to this whole No. 1 thing.

For the fifth time in the last six weeks, head coach Jay Wright's Wildcats are No. 1 in the AP poll, receiving 63 of 65 first-place votes this time around. This week's spot on college basketball's top perch came after a successful week that saw the 'Cats smother then-No.10 Xavier, 89-65, on Wednesday evening at the Wells Fargo Center. The Musketeers fell to No. 11 after the defeat. Villanova followed that up by holding off a feisty St. John's squad, 78-71, at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

The Wildcats sport this No. 1 ranking heading into their own rivalry week this week. They head to Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to battle historic Big East rival Georgetown, led by first-year head coach and Hoya great Patrick Ewing. The Hoyas are 12-5 on the season, but just 2-4 in conference play. They most recently fell to No. 19 Seton Hall this past Saturday. After that, it's on to Connecticut for an old-school Big East matchup with the Huskies. The teams last met in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, a game UConn won on its way to the national championship. Villanova, though, holds a 33-31 all-time advantage.

As for the rest of this week's top five, Virginia moved up a spot to No. 2, Purdue jumped up to No. 3, Oklahoma shot up five spots to No. 4. and Duke crept up to No. 5.

Click here to view this week's top 25 poll in its entirety.