Vil­lanova’s leg­endary Mas­simino dies at 82

Passes away at age 82 after long bat­tle with can­cer

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Tim Reynolds

Rol­lie Mas­simino, who led Vil­lanova’s sto­ried run to the 1985 NCAA cham­pi­onship and won more than 800 games in his coach­ing ca­reer, died Wed­nes­day after a long bat­tle with can­cer. He was 82.

Mas­simino’s death was an­nounced by Keiser Univer­sity, where he was still the men’s bas­ket­ball coach. He spent the fi­nal days of his life in hos­pice care.

Best known for that na­tional ti­tle at Vil­lanova, 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.

“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,” Keiser Chan­cel­lor Arthur Keiser said.

Mas­simino faced nu­mer­ous health issues in re­cent years yet never stopped coach­ing. And even though he left Vil­lanova 25 years ago, he was still con­sid­ered fam­ily by the Wild­cats and coach Jay Wright.

“If not for Rol­lie Mas­simino, I’m not even a part of this,” Wright once said. “If not for the Big East, Rol­lie Mas­simino is not Rol­lie Mas­simino. I know it. He knows it. And if not for the Big East, no one knows about Vil­lanova.”

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 of­fi­cially there for the sec­ond one. But Wright worked Mas­simino’s camps in the mid1980s be­fore com­ing to Vil­lanova, so that made him part of the fam­ily.

Mas­simino 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 last­sec­ond 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.

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.”

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. The ‘85 Vil­lanova team would gather an­nu­ally with Mas­simino, grown men sleep­ing on air mat­tresses scat­tered all over the coach’s home while din­ing on his fa­vorites — tons of pasta, tons of egg­plant, all the while toast­ing the past and the fu­ture.

He was a fi­nal­ist for en­shrine­ment in the Bas­ket­ball Hall of Fame this year. Mas­simino 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.”


In this March 24, 1985 file photo, Vil­lanova coach Rol­lie Mas­simino takes a vic­tory ride on his play­ers shoul­ders. Mas­simino led Vil­lanova’s sto­ried run to the 1985 NCAA cham­pi­onship.

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