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It's a Laugh a Minute as Massimino and Friends Turn Back the Clock

By John Feinstein
Saturday, April 2, 2005; Page D13


It was well after midnight and Rollie Massimino knew it was time to go home.

"I'm 72 years old," he said. "I need to get some sleep."

Former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino, with players from his 1985 national title team in January, enjoys reminiscing. (Rusty Kennedy -- AP)

Jay Wright was having none of it.

"You aren't going anywhere," the current Villanova coach said to the ex-Villanova coach, his onetime boss. "You are going to stay here and listen to us kill you until we say you can go. It's our turn."

They were standing in the bar area of a nearly empty restaurant, reliving memories, some good, some bad, all funny -- at least now. Twenty years to the day after the greatest moment of his career, Massimino was surrounded by men who had worked for him, won with him, lost with him, cried with him.

As Wright dragged him back to the group, Massimino put his arms around Wright and kissed him on the cheek. "I love you guys, you know that," he said. "You kill me. But I love you."

Twenty years later, Rollie Massimino can finally tell all his guys that he loves them. All the joy that came with winning arguably the most dramatic NCAA championship game ever played, led to a good deal of heartache soon after. But now, on the 20th anniversary of Villanova 66, Georgetown 64, he is back with his boys and back to feeling good about himself and the game he coached so well.

"You were absolutely brutal to work for," Tom Brennan, the retiring Vermont coach said. "I never had a moment's peace when I worked for you."

"Yeah, I know," Massimino said. "And what kind of coach did you turn out to be?"

Massimino would be the first person to say he wasn't easy to work for or to play for. But that was all part of the secret. Villanova never had overwhelming talent, but the Wildcats were always overwhelmingly prepared. Brennan remembered being sent to scout La Salle one year and, midway through the game, realized that the Explorers had only about three plays.

"I can't go back to Rollie with three plays," he said to a friend. "He'll fire me. There has to be more."

This is the first Final Four that Massimino has attended since 1985. After the Miracle of Lexington, he opted to take his wife, Mary Jane, to Florida during Final Four week rather than come back to reminisce. He left Villanova in 1992 to go to Nevada-Las Vegas, feeling as if most of the city of Philadelphia had turned on him. The Wildcats were good after '85 -- they made it to the round of eight in '88 -- but never made it back to the Final Four. Vegas proved to be a disaster and he fled for Cleveland State, which was another disaster. When Steve Lappas, who had been an assistant coach on the '85 team, took the Villanova job, Massimino felt betrayed, viewing it as one of his boys turning on him.

Three years ago, after a 20-loss season at Cleveland State, he retired to Florida. Maybe it was the sun, maybe it was the rest or maybe it was the health problems -- now behind him -- but the warmth that once made him "Daddy Mass" to his players came back.

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